Sunday, February 28, 2016

4 Dangers and 4 Joys of Expanding Your Short-Term Mission Trip into a Longer Commitment

Something that I definitely didn't think about when Ben and I were preparing to do our sixteen-month internship in Burkina Faso, West Africa, was that we'd get to meet so many great people from across America while there. Short-term teams came from Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, all earnestly working for their one-to-two weeks abroad to make an impact for the Lord. They drilled wells, built church hangars, distributed food, ran special English and women's camps, attracted attention that brought villagers out to see evangelistic movies, distributed special trikes to the handicapped, and loved on people—all in the effort to see more people come to personally know Jesus Christ. And they did come to know Jesus; not in herds, but slowly through the evangelism of the local pastors in partnership with what the missionaries and short-term team members were doing.
One of the many great short-term teams that Ben and I got to work with during their time in Burkina; this team's main project was to build the church hangar they're standing in front of and give the area pastor a platform for evangelism

Now, you might be aware that whether these kinds of short-term mission trips really have a valuable impact or not has become a topic of some debate. This could steer into a whole different topic where I don't intend this post to go, but I do want to quickly point out that I remain one who sees the value in short-term missions done right (the “done right” part being the key), which I believe Envision/Engage does do their very best to try to do it right in the cultural context of Burkina by partnering with the local pastors and supporting needs and projects led by the local churches. Are all short-term mission trips done effectively worldwide? Of course not. But I've now been a part of leading enough of these trips to know that short-term trips done right can indeed make a difference and have a very positive impact simultaneously on both the Americans and the Africans (or whichever two cultures are involved).
One of the well-drilling trips Ben helped lead, during which the local pastor gathered those nearby around to pray over this newly completed well

Yet even putting together the most wonderfully effective short-term mission trips cannot replace those people who make the extended commitment as missionaries. For those people on whose hearts God has put a passion for reaching the unreached for Him overseas, and especially those who make return short-term trips to a particular country or even to various countries time and time again, perhaps committing one week a year isn't the best thing to do, or even the right thing to do. One thing that I often heard from Americans who came on these one-to-two week mission trips was something along the lines of, “I'd love to do something like what you're doing if I could.” I always found that interesting, because my thought was—Then you should do it! God is big enough to work out all the details for you just like He did for us!

However, I do realize that it's quite intimidating to think of changing your entire life to make a commitment to missions, regardless of whether it be for several months, several years, or indefinitely. Making plans to go for a week or two, as much work as that certainly is, isn't the same as making plans to quit your job, pack up everything you own, sell your home, learn a new language, and step into the unknown for your everyday life. Of course it was hard. But I'm pretty certain that if God could take care of those many things that needed to fall into place for Ben and me to go, He can do it for everyone else whose heart He's calling to the mission field.
Our very last time of standing in front of our apartment in Ohio, our home together for the first 2 1/2 years of our marriage, before we moved to Burkina

My being open to committing to a missions internship started with a two-week trip to Mali and Burkina Faso when I was 14; God may use a short-term mission trip in people's lives in many ways, but one very real possibility could be that He's used your short-term experience to prepare your heart to do more extensive missions work. So this (unintentionally lengthy) post is my reflection on what I realized through expanding my own short-term trip into a longer commitment, as well as encouragement for those people—the ones who have felt God's tiny tug on their hearts toward missions but are holding back from making that longer commitment. 

The Dangers:

Danger #1: You'll be uncomfortable. In moving to another country for missions, you will step out of your comfort zone. A LOT. It starts with the initially uncomfortable task of fundraising, which for us, eventually turned into a blessing through knowing that we had a huge network of support and we weren't in it alone. Then, if you happen to go to a place like Burkina Faso, you'll be daily experiencing some of the most miserable weather conditions you have ever felt; trust me, having sweat dripping from every part of your body all day long gets old fast. But then again, there's more to life than living in the perfect climate (I'm trying to convince myself of this too!). Maybe the place God calls you to will even have some violence or political trouble like Burkina has had several times in recent years, during which we got to have the experience of bunkering down in our home for about a week in October of 2014 when the country's president of 27 years was overthrown; that could definitely classify as a bit of an uncomfortable time.

Different challenges come with different locations, but there will be new challenges to living in whatever place God has called you to (yes, even if He has called you to reach people in the U.S., which is a mission field as well). But God doesn't call us to a life of comfort, and He always sustains us through what He's called us to if we turn to Him for our strength. (Isaiah 41:10)
A view outside of our house's front gate during the revolution, when people were burning houses belonging to those connected with the president

Danger #2: You'll have to get used to looking silly constantly. If you go to a place where your skin color puts you in the vast minority, you automatically stand out every hour of every day. And then there's the weird stuff you do as you're adapting. For instance, I got quite a few stares as I was practicing riding my little motor bike around the block over and over. Then if you don't know the language, it's a very humbling experience to at first have to rely on other missionaries to help you do everything from going grocery shopping to calling the plumber to ordering food at a restaurant. Even if you are one of the fortunate people who actually knows the official language before moving, in a country like Burkina, only a part of the population even speaks the official language of French. Learning another culture's customs, greetings, and general way of life takes time and willingness to be taught, but all of that looking and feeling silly doesn't matter much when you get to the point where you can look back at where you started and know without a doubt that you've grown so much and are so much better for it (and better able to do ministry for it).
Me learning to ride a moto

Danger #3: You'll miss out on life back home. Weddings, funerals, graduations, family reunions, holidays, concerts, seasons, favorite restaurants, after-Christmas discount sales—you name it. We missed out on all of these and many additional important things throughout our sixteen months abroad, and of course those who live abroad permanently miss out on so much more. However, when the internet works well enough, e-mail, Facebook, and Skype might become some of your favorite inventions ever and can help incredibly at times when you feel disconnected. Just think of people who moved overseas to be missionaries when their only connection with home was through the mail or very occasional short phone calls if they were lucky; those people were tough! (And we had the privilege to work alongside several missionary couples who experienced that kind of life back in their early days on the field.)

Generally, though, you just have to learn to choose to make sweet memories where you're at rather than dwelling on missing out on big events back home. In fact, making such memories overseas even turned into one of the greatest joys of my internship.
Celebrating Ben's 26th birthday at our house in Burkina with other missionaries and a short-term team right after the conclusion of a well-drilling trip (there were way more people crammed into our living room than this picture shows—such fun!)  

Danger #4: You'll change. Not in the sense that you'll lose your passions and who you are, but I would argue that it's nearly impossible to do extended missions work without it affecting some parts of your values and self and how you see need in the world. Coming back from an extended internship on the mission field, I see life a little differently. I look at ideas of how my life could make an impact in the future with excitement and not anxiety. I'm not afraid of the possibility of God calling us overseas again. I pray more for missionaries. I consider more carefully whether or not it's necessary to purchase various items. I've caught the “travel bug.” I have more of an urge to reach out to people. I have come to realize that the typical life pattern of going to work, checking tasks off a daily agenda, and looking forward to time off isn't all that there is to life.
At the airport at the end of our internship as we were leaving Burkina—as different people than when we came

Some people can absolutely have permanent life changes after just a week or two abroad, but for many people after returning home from short-term trips, the passion slowly fades. It is not so after living life abroad. In various areas of my soul, God has permanently remolded me so very fittingly through my missions internship. I would not want to go back to what I thought I understood or what I thought I wanted in life before living in Burkina. And that brings us to the joys . . .

The Joys:

Joy #1: You get to learn all about and experience a new culture. Do you know how to weave a stick-shift LandCruiser in and out of heavy traffic, filled with way more motor bikes than cars? Can you negotiate for prices in a foreign language by yourself in the marketplace while vendors pressure you from all sides? Are you able to properly greet and abide by the customs of the different culture, such as only using your right “clean” hand for eating, handing people things, etc.? Me neither. That is, until I lived in that different culture for day-to-day life.

Yes, you do learn a lot about life in a different country by visiting there and doing short-term mission trips. But you don't get to learn the ins and outs of life in the same way. For me, when I just visited Burkina Faso, the facts that I was told of the country's history, politics, and missions all blurred together; after living there, though, I can teach others about the country because I know those things well. Also at first, every street looked about the same—shop after little shop, selling who knows what; after living there, not only did the streets and what's along them look different, but I personally recognized different vendors and knew who gave better deals. At first, every Burkinabé person looked to me like they could have come from the same family—dark skin, hair, and eyes (just as they might think that all of us who have light skin, hair, and eyes look related); after living there, I learned how to recognize different features of different tribes and realized just how very different people actually looked. 

It really is such a joy to get to live in a culture that's different from your own. Despite my previous short-term overseas travels, I had no idea. Your world expands figuratively as well as quite literally when you actually do life overseas.
A greeting ceremony with dancing and music to celebrate the arrival of one of our short-term teams to a village

Joy #2: You meet so many new, fantastic people. This is really one that I didn't even consider before moving to Burkina. I had planned on meeting many wonderful Burkinabé locals of course, which I did, but there were also just so many people fluctuating through the international community and through the different ministries that there were always new people to meet and new friendships to form. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience in a capital city, and this would be a bit different if you were to live somewhere like a secluded village, but even then, it might surprise you how missionaries are able to network and how God fulfills your need for friendships in your life. 

Now granted, my closest friends and mentors in Burkina all were fluent English speakers, considering that my three months of French language training couldn't put me close to having deep conversations with non-English speakers, but I would imagine that the enjoyment of community could be even stronger once the language barrier isn't an issue with locals. There's really a whole new dimension of relationship between people when you're living outside of your home country together, though, and I found it so vital when facing those “dangers” of life in Burkina Faso to have those other foreigners there who were facing that alongside me, the ones who really did understand the challenges and who made it easier to be removed from my former sense of normality.
The English-speaking women's Bible studies having our joint Christmas party

Joy #3: You see how God is at work outside of your bubble at home. I will be the first to admit that when I was living my “normal” life in Ohio before I committed to moving to Burkina, my insight into how God was at work around the world was pretty limited. However, when you are living your everyday life in not just a new place but in a new culture, you get to see how God also relates to people other than Americans. In fact, I was pretty thrilled to realize just how relatable Bible stories were to the Burkinabé culture. For instance, while it may be a stretch for Americans to relate to the accounts in the Bible that are centered around wells, donkeys, sheep, dusty feet, living in community, and so on, this would be no stretch for the Burkinabé to relate to because these things are involved in their current everyday experiences. It was neat for me to realize while being in village after village that I could now not only see the Bible in a clearer light, but I could also see how the Bible transcends cultures. 

When you're on a short-term trip surrounded by people from your home area and you're following a schedule of work set up for you, it's not the same view as when you're in that place living on your own. Nor do you get to see progress over time in the same way. When you really break away from all of your norms and live in that new culture, you get to see some pretty awesome things happen. We got to see someone who not only accepted Christ as his Savior but also burned his fetishes that he used to believe would protect him when he was bound up in animism. We got to be a part of villages transforming after they received  new church buildings and new wells drilled in Jesus' name. We got to watch as two people chose to go to the front of a crowd to accept Jesus at an evangelism night, an action that does not often happen there where shy hand raising is much more the norm.

And after all of the ways that God opens your eyes and stretches you while living abroad, you might come to realize, as we did, that maybe you needed Africa (or insert other place of internship/missionary commitment) more than it needed you. What a joy indeed!
Ben and me with some of the people who live near a well that our team had just finished drilling

Joy #4: You get to be involved in something purposeful for eternity. I'm not going to pretend that I think that our being in Burkina Faso for sixteen months changed the entire country or influenced hundreds of people to come to Christ. Actually, Ben and I were almost never the ones who directly taught the Word (with the exception of times we were able to share in English at the English-speaking youth group or ESOL camp); as I alluded to earlier, coming into a country without knowing the language or culture is limiting and takes quite a bit of time for one to get to the point of being able to have real conversations with people, let alone to be equipped to effectively share the message of Christ in that new language.

But in spite of what we couldn't do, our being there did play a part in supporting the local church. It did help to make it possible for American short-term teams to bring needed partnership with local pastors and churches. We did assist in giving local pastors a platform for evangelism, where many came to Christ. We did work with the international youth group, which included both students in need of discipleship and students who didn't yet know Jesus personally. We did do anything and everything that was needed behind the scenes to support the ministry work that was happening.
One example of doing "anything and everything": organizing tubs with supplies for teams to use on bush trips

While some people's giftedness is directly evangelism-related, others are needed for support roles as Romans 12:4-6a points out: "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us." Missionaries in the support roles of hospitality, service, and helps are needed on the mission field alongside those that we think of as in the more traditional role of evangelism, enabling those who are called to teach and preach to do so effectively. And I believe that our doing that did make an impact for eternity by God's work through us. 

So all of this to say, if God is calling you to make an impact for eternity where you're currently at, that's so needed; do the best job of it that you possibly can, and meanwhile do what you can to support missionaries in prayer and finances as well, because they can't do it without your support. But if God IS putting a little tug on your heart to go and make an impact for eternity overseas, perhaps even in the very place that your heart has been drawn to during a short-term mission trip you went on, don't ignore that. God will get you through the dangers and will surely bring you so many unexpected joys through your obedience to His plan, just as Ben and I can now look back and see His hand throughout our life-changing internship in Burkina Faso. 


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

We're Moving!

From when Ben and I got accepted for our Envision internship back in November 2013, it took us four quick months to share our vision with others, fundraise, buy plane tickets, put all of our belongings in storage, step down from our jobs, and actually make it to Burkina Faso for the start of what would become sixteen incredible months of ministering to and alongside many incredible people. 
Ben and I in Burkina in July at one of the last projects we took part in before the end of our internship—teaching at a
week-long Christian English camp outreach for local students

I never imagined, though, that it would additionally take us four long months to get settled back in once we returned from our internship. 

Since we got back to the U.S. in the middle of August 2015, we've been in the nonstop process of trying to find new jobs and follow God to where He wants us next. We had no idea what that would look like, but it didn't seem like it should be too complicated. We both have bachelor's degrees and some decent job experience, so we just thought that everything would come together and we'd be living in our own cute little house in the ideal city within a month or so of returning from Burkina. Oh, how we were mistaken!

As it turned out, reentering life in the U.S. after being overseas was really complicated for us. Since we had no set city or even state where we intended to move, our plan was that Ben would secure a good job and then I would start looking for jobs in that area where he found one. Over the course of these past few months, Ben applied to so many jobs in so many different fields and so many different states, but not until November did he start getting a couple of calls back from interested companies. 

To be perfectly honest with you, I think that returning from our internship was just as difficult as preparing to go was for us. And preparing to go was quite difficult from the standpoint of having to take care of so many things and change nearly every aspect of our lives for the unknowns of living life in another country. But returning to the U.S. without any clear direction from God on where to go next, without the potential job situations we had heard about working out right for us, and without having any set source of income has made for an emotionally draining four months of transition. 

However, God has still taken care of all of our needs during this time, and we trust He always will as we seek to follow Him. We have much to be thankful for despite the hardships. As Romans 8:28 reminds me, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
One way that God took care of and blessed us during this transition time was allowing us extra time to spend with our families, and we got to visit family members in places such as Chicago (pictured).

In November, Ben did a phone interview with Allstate in Maryland. He then went for an interview up in Massachusetts for a manager trainee position at a Firestone store. We both liked that area and felt that we could see ourselves moving to Massachusetts, but just after his interview on that same afternoon, he got a call asking him to come in for an interview at the Maryland Allstate the following week. This turned out to be a bit of a dilemma. Firestone had offered Ben the job on the spot during the interview, but the Allstate job was what he thought would be a better fit. Long story short, he decided to turn down Firestone in hopes that he'd get an offer at Allstate. And after several more interviews and lots of waiting to hear back, he did! 

So we're excited to let you know that we will be moving to the Columbia, Maryland, area next week! Ben will be working at Allstate as an inside auto claims adjuster, and I will be looking to get a job there as soon as I can. We've since been working out the details of figuring out the area, renting an apartment, and getting our belongings moved there from Ohio.

Thank you for your continued prayers for us as we completed our transition back to life in the U.S. I still am so amazed and thankful for all of the wonderful people who God has brought into our lives to encourage and support us through all of this. Our new location will be close to a lot of major things, so if anyone ever plans to be in the D.C. or Baltimore area, let us know and we'd seriously love to meet up or have you over!

We really didn't try to end up in Maryland. As I said, Ben applied all over the place and many of you even know that our first plan was to try to move to North Carolina, but I find it kind of funny that God has moved us now from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest counties in the United States (also ironic because we really aren't at all the "wealthy type" of people and it costs A LOT to live there). I don't think that our missionary days are necessarily over. We both still feel a draw to the overseas mission field, and we very well could end up overseas again if God calls us there. But for now, our new mission field is in Maryland. I have no idea how long we'll stay there or what all is in store for us in this new state, but I trust that God has a plan in moving us there and I'm excited to find out what He has for us! 


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Finding the Perfect Place to Live

Have you ever had a pretty good idea of what your goal was, yet had no idea how to get to it? And then realized that what you want might not actually be realistic or even necessarily the best thing for you?

My goal that falls into this category was to move to the perfect place after we returned from Africa. This may sound silly, especially considering that I was happily willing to live in Burkina Faso despite the almost desert-like conditions and the limited access to first-world comforts, but now coming back to the U.S. after completing our sixteen-month missionary internship, I really had in mind that Ben and I would find the perfect place to live and work. My wish list was a bit extensive: somewhere near the beach, near the mountains, with four seasons but little-to-no snow, close to a city with lots of entertainment, by fantastic malls and outlets, within a day's drive of both of our parents (Ohio and Delaware), not too much traffic, meaningful jobs that we love, low cost of living, close to a major airport, and so on. You know, I figured if we now have the chance to move anywhere and do anything, why not find the perfect place? As it turns out, finding the perfect place to live with perfect jobs in the one-month time frame in which I'd hoped to find all of that hasn't quite come together as I'd hoped. 
Visiting a lovely beach in Cape Cod in September

In fact, not only has it not come together as I'd hoped, but it actually hasn't come together at all. Our time since we've been back in the U.S.—over a month and a half now—has been filled with trying to find new jobs while also reconnecting with many people. We've gotten to see family and friends in Delaware, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Boston, Ohio, and Chicago, and we do feel very blessed in that regard. Although for now we're staying primarily in Dover, Delaware, with Ben's parents, we're actively seeking where God wants to take us next and intending to move as soon as we figure that out. 
Spending a day in Chicago recently with my sister (as well as my brother and Ben)

This job search has consisted of many miles of travel already, as we checked into areas of North and South Carolina, the area of the country that we originally thought might meet most of the criteria on that lengthy wish list. We did have a great time while there, getting to reconnect with one of Molly's best friends from high school and also getting to see members of a couple of the church teams we worked with in Burkina Faso. Although we saw many nice areas, we didn't have a clear leading to any city in particular on that trip (like I'd really hoped we would), and the job opportunities so far didn't seem to be what we are needing (also what I'd been hoping would just fall perfectly into place). So the search has continued on. 
Enjoying dinner and reconnecting with team members and their families from the Summit Church in North Carolina 

However, what I'm really glad I gained from that trip was the realization that wherever God leads us—whether it fits my picture of an ideal location or not—nowhere is going to be perfect, and realistically the perfect place to be is wherever He wants us. What I want should be to follow what He wants, and where could I possibly find more contentment than to be in the center of His will anyways? So maybe He will still lead us toward beaches and away from snowy weather; maybe He won't. Either way, I've decided to be happy to be trying to follow God's leading and follow the advice of Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will direct your paths." God was faithful to guide and sustain us as we followed His leading to Africa, and no doubt He will continue to be faithful as we follow His leading to ____________ (insert unknown place where we'll eventually end up). :)  
Ben with his grandparents during our visit to their home near Boston last month

I have to remind myself every day to make the decision to be content and thankful for what God has brought us to, though. It's true; just ask Ben. I really desire to get settled somewhere, and to be honest, this has been quite a challenging time. We still don't know where we will live or what jobs we will do, and it is a very humbling position to be in to be without an income and staying with family (again, though, I can be very thankful that we have such wonderful families that will help us out during this transition). The reality is that coming back from Burkina has been filled with just as many challenges as preparing to go to Burkina, and that's something I never would have expected. 

We'd love to have your continued prayers during this time. We're working as hard as we can to find jobs and have a plan for the future, but we know that ultimately it is in God's hands. Besides, that's where I'd much rather have my future resting than in my hands; He always has better plans than I do . . . such as taking us to Burkina! I'm excited, and perhaps a little anxious, to see what not-quite-perfect place we'll end up in next, and I'm also eager to see how God's molding us through our missions internship will play into this new chapter. 


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Since Leaving Burkina . . .

We've had quite a transition during the month of August so far. We left our home in Burkina Faso on August 1 after a very busy July closed out our missions internship that had lasted over sixteen months. (Read about July's ministries in our newsletter.)
At the Ouagadougou Airport all packed up to goand with it feeling surreal that we were really moving away  

We then flew halfway back to the States and stopped in Europe, where we got to take our much-anticipated vacation that we had saved up for from the jobs we'd had prior to the internship. Finally, we flew the rest of the way to the U.S. on August 13 to stay with Ben's parents in Delaware while beginning to figure out what to do next. It's been a really exciting time, yet while we have a lot to look forward to and a lot of good things happening in the present, our hearts are a bit conflicted because we also have a lot that we're leaving behind. 
Loving all of the green and lakes and mountains in southern Germany

Leaving the ministry work that we've loved being a part of has not been the easiest. We quickly grew to love helping facilitate the partnership between the Burkinabé and the many American church teams that Envision hosted during our time there. Although we do have confidence that now was our time to move on and we're excited to see that it's others' time to join the Envision Burkina team instead, there still are many things we'll miss about being on that mission field. It was a privilege to be used by God in Burkina Faso, and we're so grateful that we weren't too afraid to take that step of faith that He was leading us to take when we first heard about the internship in March of 2013. 
Having a final game night at our house with our Burkina missionary friends

Please be praying for our peace during this transition time. Even though neither of us has experienced strong culture shock during any of our travels, it is still an adjustment. It's not easy to be in the position of transitioning back into the U.S. culture while we're also unsure of what God's leading us into next. Although most of the time we do have a peace about this, it is all too easy to slip into an attitude of worry. 

Pray also that we'd be sensitive to God's guidance. We're looking for new jobs and a new place to live, and that means that many changes are ahead. We are eager for this, yet since we're still unsure of what kinds of jobs to pursue and what state to move to, it is something that we're having to trust that God will show us the way to go in His timing. It's both exciting and scary to be as open to possibilities as we are at this current moment. 

These past few days, though, it has been a treat to get to be back in the States—seeing Ben's family and being back at their church, eating delicious pre-washed mixed lettuce (I know that's weird, but that's what I'd been craving in Burkina), window shopping at all the abundantly-stocked stores, and driving Ben's convertible (which since Burkina life forced me to learn to drive a manual with confidence, I can do now!). We do appreciate things in America differently than when we left, but there's so much more to it than that. God has opened our hearts and expanded our world in so many ways that we struggle to accurately convey, yet we'll try to share some of that with you in upcoming blog posts.
We were excited to get to be part of a family outing with Ben's family this weekgoing to the circus! 

Although we aren't able to make plans too far out right now since we're trying to get jobs situated as soon as possible, we really look forward to reconnecting with everyone from Delaware, North Carolina, and Ohio during August and September. If you're in one of those states and want to be sure we get time to connect with you, let us know so that we can start setting plans in motion. Thanks for your continued support and prayers during this time!