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.

Monday, May 19, 2014


I visited a hospital in West Africa several weeks back.  It has nice facilities and the staff I met are good people.  But there was a problem.  Two of the four floors were closed and the second floor barely used at all.  The hospital did not have functioning equipment and, though there is a steady stream of patients every day, if a person has to have an x-ray or blood test they are referred to another hospital.  Great potential, tremendous opportunity for outreach to a predominantly Muslim community, all lost reduced down to one word…overreach.

It’s a classic example of what I see in missions in many places throughout the world.  The person or persons responsible for launching the medical facility were trying to do too much.  Their reach exceeded their grasp.  Vision is of course vital in moving forward on any endeavor and if a person or organization has no vision they prefer managing what they have rather than leaning forward toward growth.  It’s a fine balance, managing and vision.  The “bean counters” in the organization are forever telling us that we can’t afford it while the visionary argues that we walk by faith, not by sight.  Finding the balance between status quo and entrepreneurship boils down to one simple rule, defining your purpose.  The hospital in West Africa is heavily in debt and on the verge of collapse for two reasons.

First, by trying to do too much and in the process they lost their way on what they were suppose to be doing.  The hospital was never the foundational project.  The organization began with reaching neighboring villages with water projects, schools and establishing churches.  Health care is always an issue in the village so a medical clinic was introduced, which then led to establishing the hospital in the major city in the area.  Rather than concentrating on one village and meeting the local needs they branched out to other villages, which drove the vision for a major medical facility.  By the time I observed the projects neither the villages nor the hospital programs were functioning well and all in financial stress.  They were just trying to do too much; they were not doing one thing well.

The second reason for the lack of focus relates to “chasing the money” rather than building a strong foundational purpose.  When analyzing this project it was easy to see that the whole system was a house of cards, a social ponzi scheme.  I am not suggesting that there was evil intent on bilking anyone, but rather money from the west was underwriting projects and short-term teams were giving time and money to programs they were interested in.  Staff was hired, wells dug, construction on churches and hospital were initiated.  However, because the main thing no longer was the main thing, the tail chased the dog.  Well meaning donors drove the agenda, which in-turn drove the people in Africa to try and follow-up all the projects launched.  In the end money designated to feed school kids ended up paying the salaries at the hospital, and money earmarked for a well project supplied support for a church building; a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Eventually donors wanted to know why the wells weren’t being dug and what happened to the wheel chairs the church in America bought? (They are stored in the third floor of the hospital storeroom.) Designated money still comes in, leaving the general operational funds in the red.

I know some of the people in this project quite well.  They are good people.  However, due to overreach many have lost a lot sleep, some on the verge of emotional breakdown.  There is not one project started that is not worthy of support, but we (western missionaries, short-term teams and national workers) need to understand we can’t do everything.  Do one thing well; don’t be sidetracked to do twenty other things. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Tale of Two Teams: Case Study In Senegal

At the outset let me say the title of this post is a misnomer for, though I analyze two different sets of cross-cultural workers in Senegal, only one is a true team, the other is a group. 

Team is one of those popular mission buzzwords.  Sending agencies like to promote their team concept, in planting churches or the ethos of their organization.  I saw a T-shirt a few years back with the slogan “It Takes A Team” written in large print below the agencies logo.  However, as this post points out, team is sometimes more of a concept than actual fact.  This short case study helps define what a team and missions is all about.

IT TAKES A GROUP – Over fifteen years ago my brother (who is a business consultant) and myself met with a group of missionaries working in Dakar, Senegal.  The mission organization they were members of had been in the country for over forty years.  At that time we met them there were five families living and serving in the city.  They met every Wednesday for a team meeting and prayer with a team leader facilitating the meeting.  Each member gave a report of his or her projects.  None of the ministry activities were related.  There were no decisions that were made at these meetings, suggestions, perhaps, on how a problem might be resolved within a particular work, but little to no integrated effort in any of the programs throughout the city.  At the conclusion of our time in Dakar my brother stated that they were not a team at all, but a group.  A good group to be sure, as they clearly supported each other and enjoyed getting together, but they were certainly not a team.

Fast-forward fifteen years and it could be said that today that they are barely a group and certainly no closer to becoming a team.  They are in fact a fractured group as one member stated categorically to me that as a group living in the same country they were on the verge of “imploding” (partly due to poor leadership management from the home office in the U.S.).

IT TAKES A TEAM – Visiting another area of the country I met with a relatively new team that are involved in an agricultural project.  This team is comprised of seven families (five expatriates and two Senegalese), and three singles (one Senegalese).  The team was formed just four years ago; all seasoned cross-cultural workers, from different mission agencies, all of them having a good grasp of the language.  Through personal interviews and sitting in on team meetings it was apparent they truly function as a team.  Each member of this team has a specific role; each person also has a part of the decisions that make up this ministry.  At least five families are a part of the pooled finances for the operation of the farm and they freely share property, i.e. vehicles and tools.  This team has a strong focused purpose; to train local Christians in appropriate farming techniques as well as biblical studies.   They have one hundred acres of land to teach farming and train fifteen interns for a year who live and work on the farm.  After the interns have completed the program and they return to they’re village, the team members visit them, following-up to help the interns implement what they learn through they’re training.

This brief description of the two sets of cross-cultural workers in West Africa is not to disparage one and exalt the other.  The agricultural team has weaknesses; the group in Dakar has (individual) strengths.   The point is, there is a difference between being a team that works together for a common cause and a group, who just happen to be members of a the same sending agency.

Please click HERE to read the detailed analysis of the agricultural team and judge for yourself.  Are you a team or just a group?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Wrapping Up: Energizing the Local Church

In this series I’ve given broad guidelines I believe will energize your church for global outreach.  Each church has it’s own ideas on what and who to support.  Younger congregations tend to lean toward social mission programs, missional churches tend to look at the strategic approach to reaching the unreached.  Some additional thoughts as your mission’s team develop its Great Commission goals.

Age – The effectiveness of a missionary or project does not depend on age.  There is always a push to support younger projects and it is indeed important to invest in the future of missions.  However, there is something to be said for people and organizations that have been serving for ten years or more.  New missionaries must learn culture and language while those on the field long term are in place to do significant ministries.  Those who invest in the stock market look for a proven track record of the companies.  That would be true of missionaries and mission organizations on the field as well. Venture capitalism is important, but I wouldn’t put all of the resources into those with just a good idea.

Diversify -  Try to keep your projects in balance.  Avoid investing all your capital into one region of the world or one people group.  The congregation will weary if they only hear about the needs in China when there interest may be in Ukraine or some other part of the world.  Even if your mission budget is only $10,000 a year, divide that money among two or three projects, not just one.

Keep People Informed – There are several good ways to keep the congregation informed.  One is to focus on a missionary or missions project each month.  If you have a bulletin for Sunday services, highlight one project or person each month in that bulletin.  Some churches have “mission moments” each month, where they take five minutes of the morning service to report on missions.  Sometimes it is a video clip from the missionary on the field.  One of our supporting churches writes me occasionally to set up a Skpe presentation.  The person in charge video’s my greetings to the congregation, activities I am involved in and prayer requests.  They then show that presentation in their morning service.  Posting prayer letters on a board is okay, but it’s not the best approach these days.  People want “real time” updates.  Always remind the congregation how the church’s mission program is funded and how vital there participation to the Great Commission.

Conferences -  Whether you call it a global impact week or discover missions or a missions conference, each year their should be at least one Sunday that is dedicated to the Great Commission effort.  Though the days of having nightly services Wednesday through Sunday is not as effective with 21st century Christians, a week of highlighting the congregations missions effort is still the best way to keep global outreach a priority before the people.  One church I know has bookend Sunday’s.  The fist Sunday sets the tone for the missions emphasis week, with different missionaries speaking in Bible classes and a special speaker for the morning service.  International suppers on Saturday sometimes work as well as a breakfast for men or women to hear a missionary speaker.  Though the attendance may not be high for all venues, the goal is to give opportunity for busy people in the church to pick the forum that fits their need for engaging in missions.  The first Sunday is informational, the second Sunday should be for challenge people to do their part in reaching the world with the Gospel.

Evaluate Annually -  Each year the mission’s team should meet to evaluate the missionaries and projects they support.  Analysis should include their ministry activities the past year, their prayer needs and their support level. 

Prayer – Finally, in all things pray that the Lord of the harvest guide and direct the team and the church in how to be engaged in world missions.  If the church members are praying then it is probably a safe bet they are also giving and going. 

One lady came up to me after a conference and said she just couldn’t wrap her head around missions, that it was vast and complicated, “like the national debt.”  All too often when people think about “taking the Gospel to the whole world,” they are overwhelmed.  They don’t believe God is calling them to be a career missionary and they are dissatisfied with just giving money.  It’s the role of the local church to help each member to recognize they do have a role.  Giving is indeed a part and certainly going.  But being engaged with missionaries and projects may be as simple as getting on Facebook with a missionary family.  Through constant contact people can be informed and pray for those who serve in different parts of the world. 


I trust these simple guidelines on how to energize the local church for the Great Commission has been helpful.  Certainly there are many other issues that need to be discussed.  If you have a specific question, please write to me ( and I will give you my best opinion, and recognize, it is just my opinion.  God bless, as together we seek to take the blessed hope of Christ to every nation, people and tongue in the world.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Part III: Analysis and Implentation (D)

 So far we have looked at the mission projects the church wants to be involved in, the budget for global outreach and now it is time to determine the dollar amount of support for those projects.

As with earlier topics, when it comes to determining financial contributions, one size does not fit all.  It is the role of the mission’s team to determine global outreach expenditures.  

First, what is the budget of each missionary or missions project?   For a North American missionary family of four, the annual support need will probably range from $50,000 to $70,000.  Obviously it depends where missionaries live in the world.  In developing countries it will obviously be less that developed countries.  The mission’s team must do its homework in understanding how to analyze a missionary’s budget, which would include asking the sending mission agency about cost of living in those countries as well as going to the Internet for cost of living index.   While Kenya may be a developing country, cost of living in Nairobi is much higher than another city in the country.   Obviously a family of four will be different for a single missionary.  My advice is to ask the missionary to help your team understand their financial needs and work accordingly.

This financial analysis also would apply to national missionaries, mission organizations and projects.  If the project is for Sudanese refugees, instead of just responding to the appeal, “$20 dollars will feed a refugee for a month,” find out what their budget is and how the money is spent.  There is always overhead in every project, whether it is the cost of promotion, administration and personnel needs and they are usually legitimate.  An astute mission’s committee (team) should be able to inform the congregation how much a $20 contribution actually goes to feeding the refugees.   

Determining Support Amount

How much to support missionaries and mission projects?  Again, it depends on your scale of priority.   If those missionaries and projects were in the 15 – 20 point scale, perhaps your church would support them 5% of their total budget.  Let’s suppose a missionary or project’s annual need is $65,000 (about $5,500 per month) meaning your church’s monthly contribution would be approximately $270 per month or $3,240 annually.  Perhaps their missionary activity is in the 10-point scale and you want to support those in that group at 3%.  Your support to those people and projects, using the same annual budget would be around $165 per month or $1,950 annually. 

Of course every dollar counts and every contribution is appreciated.  However, some churches have a standard amount of giving no matter the need.  A monthly contribution of $100 means a missionary must find 54 other churches or people to give that amount to reach their budget.  There is always outgoing expenses as well, emergency travel or unforeseen ministry expenses (the breakdown of a vehicle or the sudden devaluation of the local currency).  For the missionary that means they must find at least 60 or 65 donors at that $100 level just to stay current with their financial obligations.  My recommendation is that churches make an attempt to provide at least 3% for each missionary project that is 10 points or more on your scale. For those who are less than 10 points, either discontinue their support or commit to giving them 1% of their support needs.  (There is nothing wrong with supporting the retired missionary living in Omaha, if that is what they need to live on.  After all, they were faithful servants representing your church for 40 years. )

When is the last time you gave your missionary a raise?  A church supporting a missionary $75 per month since 1980 is actually contributing, adjusting for inflation, approximately $26.40.

No matter how you analyze your mission program one thing is clear…the support should be focused and intentional.  Who, what, how much, should be a process.  I believe that if the local church leadership will treat missions in a serious, prayerful and thoughtful way, it will energize the whole body of believers for the Great Commission.