The American Missionary

We are going through some changes at our sending church right now. They are pretty big and there’s been some big controversy over some of the issues. We are trying to reach the post-modern culture in America and we want to reach young people and children. To do so means lots and lots of changes, to the building and to the ministry focus. I wrote this during CIT and didn’t want to post it at the time, but I thought it was appropriate. ya go. The American Missionary.


When we hear people talk about “cultures” or “cultural training,” we automatically assume it’s about another country. As if somehow, America is exempt from having a culture. America is always portrayed as the norm and everyone else has a culture and is different. Yet, in reality, America is its own culture and is full of diverse sub-cultures, just like everywhere else in this world.

One of these sub-cultures is church. Of course, within church culture, you have an even greater number of more sub-cultures! Churches are all different – different denominations, worship styles, preaching styles, age groups, ministries – the list could go on and on.

Now, if all cultures naturally change over a period of time, are churches exempt from that change? Some would argue that yes, they are. The methods of worship and evangelism worked well 50 years ago – they should work fine now. Others would say no-  in order to be affective, a church must change over time, with the larger culture it’s a part of, and look vastly different from generation to generation. Are either of these views correct? Let’s take a look.

If a church remains the same for years and years, it almost reminds me of a museum. Museums preserve things very well. But, it can be generations before new things are added that can be considered “history.” The tour is the same, the displays are the same. The information is important and the presentation is pristine, but, let’s be honest, it can get old after awhile. Only true devotees of history frequent the same museums regularly. It’s great to visit, see what’s there, maybe learn something new, but not normally is it a place for “repeat offenders.”

On the other hand, if a church decides to change completely with the times and throw out all of the old in order to appease everyone, it can appear quite syncretistic. How far do churches go to fit in and draw a crowd? Some have likened churches like this to amusement parks: there’s something for everyone. The message itself gets watered down in attempts to make it inoffensive, tolerant, and appealing.

So, where’s the balance? In dealing with any culture, the balance is in proper contextualization. I say “proper” because even here, the balance is quite delicate. Like a trapeze artist over Niagara Falls, one wrong move and it’s all over. The balance is precarious, but crucial. How do you avoid staying a museum without becoming an amusement park? The same way a missionary would in any other culture.

As much as most of us hate to admit it, and even fewer of us will admit it out loud, the methods of evangelism that worked 75, or even 25, years ago just simply do not work anymore. Our culture is shifting from being very scientific (modern) to very emotional (post-modern)…in a nutshell. Appealing to the senses is crucial in reaching this generation and possibly even the generations to come. Now, most believers will argue – and rightly so – that true faith is not purely emotions. While that is completely true, remember that God does manifest Himself in very real heart-emotions: love, joy, peace, contentment, hope, etc. The post-modern person needs to hear about a God Who is here for him today. He doesn’t necessarily need to be convinced God exists – he probably already knows that. He needs to know God is real for him now.

But, if we only appeal to the emotions and focus on giving them an emotional experience with God, we are not giving them the whole truth. Just giving them what they want to hear and what we know will draw them to Christ is not enough. Emotions always wear off. We must blend fact in with the emotion (the old with the new) in order to sustain their true faith. We also have to keep in mind that our culture is in the process of changing. Not everyone is emotionally driven, therefore, one method of evangelism and church just will not reach everyone.

Another thing that is even harder to admit is that our method of worship has changed. This doesn’t just mean music. The entire service has changed over the years- everywhere from how people dress to types of instruments played to length and style of sermons. There is something to be said about having some kind of structure, but ultimately, “worship” is not constrained or defined by any of these things. Style of music, length of sermons, types of instruments, and length of the service are not worship. They are merely to assist people in personal worship of the Lord. If you only worship on Sundays, then the meaning of “living a life of worship” has not gotten a hold of you yet. But, ultimately, does our “worship service” look like a museum tour that never changes or an amusement park that tries so hard to please everyone that no one enjoys it and someone always ends up sun burned?

Years ago, missionaries went to a new country and brought with them their way of doing things. This is why the most widely sung music in churches all over the world are English and American songs. Church, in many countries, looks shockingly similar to church in America. The buildings have steeples, the people dress up, and they sing from hymnals translated from English.

Now that missionaries are spending more time learning about the culture they are going into, they are drastically changing their methods of reaching people in other countries. People are writing their own music and worshiping the Lord in styles familiar to them. Their styles of “church dress” reflect their own nationality. Fewer foreign pastors are preaching; more merely participate and offer guidance when asked. Church buildings don’t always have steeples anymore and some, to the American mind, wouldn’t even look like a church…or even a building for that matter.

We no longer expect a missionary to change the people group he’s ministering to in order to reflect his own home culture. We expect missionaries to adapt and help form indigenous churches so people can come to know and worship God in their own way. We do, however, expect the missionary to help guide the people in Godly truth.

We define a “missionary” as someone who tells others the Gospel, correct? We also stress in America that we “don’t need to go overseas” in order to be a missionary, right? If we are all truly missionaries, then we need to do what all missionaries do:

1.     Step back and observe the (new!) culture around us.

2.     Develop a strategy to best meet this culture where they’re at.

3.     Set aside our own preconceived ideas of church as we know it and try something new.

4.     Be wary of straying from the truth and accepting things into the church that are not from the Lord, as outlined clearly in Scripture, being careful not to interpret Scripture through our own cultural viewpoint.


A museum, amusement park, or God-glorifying church? The choice is yours…as the American missionary.


Three Down, Two to Go…

We finished our “Effective Teams and Team Leaders” module this morning. This class literally flew by! We talked this morning about multi-cultural teams and how the dynamics are different, etc. It was quite enlightening. We tend to think that everybody in the world thinks, acts, and reacts like we in America do. That’s not quite true. Even how we deal with conflict is radically different in another culture. Sometimes even just following the model in Matthew 18 looks completely different in another culture – especially one where they are “shame-based.” Lots and lots to think about!

We said goodbye two three more people today. Everyone else is staying for next week’s module – “Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills.” We begin that module Sunday evening; ten new people will be joining us as well, making this class the largest yet for us – twenty people! They will also be providing us lunch next week since this class is a little more in-depth. Who’s going to complain about free food, I ask you??

Tomorrow begins our other module – “Teaching English as a Second Language.” This is actually going to be one of my jobs in Peru, so I’m anxious to have some kind of clue as to how to go about this! We found out a month ago that this class is actually free if you come for the “Core Five” – which is what we did. So, Brian will be joining me for the next two days! He figured it wouldn’t hurt. 🙂 We will be in class Friday and Saturday from 8:30-4, and then, of course, SYIS begins Sunday evening with a dinner. So, we shall be a tad busy!

We ask for your prayers right now for a couple things. First of all – a HUGE praise: We got our monthly report from BCM and found out that we have much more support than we realized and now, instead of only have 1/3 of our support, we have only 1/3 of our support LEFT to raise!! We are ecstatic! But, be praying for us because 2/3 of our support is not 100%, which is where we are required to be before we can go to Peru.

Be praying for us as we leave next week. We are going to be leaving some wonderful friends who we aren’t sure we’ll see again this side of eternity. That’s hard. Also, we’ll be leaving a quite relaxed, almost vacation-like setting (some days!) to enter back into “reality”: support raising. Transitions aren’t quite our favorite part of life.

Be praying for us as we plan the next few months. We are making a trip to South Dakota sometime in May, but we don’t know when yet. Brian needs to get ahold of a pastor out there to find out our speaking date, but THEN, we found out that our Peruvian director will be in PA sometime in May (looks like towards the end of May) and we would love to meet with him and our personnel director in person while he’s State-side. There are just lots of logistics to work out for the month of May and we don’t really even have a starting point yet.

My mom has requested that you all hear from Brian about his feelings about this training. I asked him to write something this weekend, so hopefully, he’ll stick to that and get something written out for you guys so you can see this training from his point of view as well.

Thank you for holding us up in prayer! We’re in the home stretch for this phase!!


I promised I would discuss what our debriefing time looked like today in our teams class, so I am fulfilling my end of the bargain. 🙂 I thought the debrief time would be in the afternoon, but it wasn’t. It was first thing this morning, right after a Bible study time on forgiveness! I think that was planned…sneaky sneaky.

We all got together in our groups with our facilitator and he went through a survey that we had filled out individually to find out what we all thought of our team. It was a fascinating time. We all agreed that our leader did a phenomenal job and that she was not to blame for anything that happened. It was an incredible learning time as we talked with the man from Iraq about his feelings during our project.

The basic thing we learned is that words and their meanings vary from culture to culture. Our “American” idea of “heart”, “values”, and “purpose” are translated completely differently than someone from Europe would translate them. We, as Americans, are able to do a class project, get into it, and present something creative in a short amount of time, regardless of whether or not we enjoy the project, believe in it, or even want to do it. Our team member from Iraq honestly could not even comprehend doing a class project creatively if his heart wasn’t in it. Those sentiments just aren’t even something we would’ve thought about before this!! Even now, it makes no sense. Is it wrong? Absolutely not! Will we ever understand or even agree? Probably not. Can we work with it? Absolutely. But, we must be at least aware of it or conflict will simmer below the surface for months, if not years.

A lot of questions just were not answered, I must say. Our friend could not express it because, well, it’s just who he is – it’s not something he consciously thinks about every day. Analyzing his natural reactions just is not realistic. So, we had a hard time figuring stuff out, but in the end, apologies were given and recieved all around (because we did hurt him, too, by ignoring him and not realizing his needs), and we left amiably. One thing we did hear from him, though, was that even though he apologized for hurting us, he said he would never apologize for his actions. In fact, he would even do it again if the situation arose. I found that fascinating.

This afternoon, we started “Conflict Resolution” which will be a class that will go until sometime tomorrow. Coming from a background where conflict was looked down upon, I find the concept of conflict being not only necessary but God-given just really hard to swallow! But, I’m learning! It does produce growth, brings glory to God, and allows us to serve others.

I think the last few days have just made me stop and go, “hmm.” I don’t get it, but I’m glad we’re going through it.

Friday’s Musings.

Disclaimer: this blog is rather long. We have a lot to think about this week. I will try to keep them shorter in the days ahead. But, I can’t really promise that.  🙂

The last two days of class this week have been quite thought-provoking. I’m actually quite exhausted because there is so much information that we’ve taken in this week that I just want to take time to process. We were asked to go to South Carolina this weekend, but I think we’re going to stay here. We need the rest. It’s been great, but again- so much to think about.

Yesterday, we discussed an issue that’s big on our hearts: multi-cultural teams. We are going to be the only Americans on an all-Peruvian team. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, that’s probably one of the most exciting things we’ll be doing. As we talked about in our Equipping module, different cultures bring to light different aspects about God and in worshiping, praying, and studying together with our new team, I’m sure we’ll learn more about God than we ever thought we would. However, it’s a different culture. So, what does a “team” look like in Lima, Peru? How do “team meetings” function? What will our role be in the “team”? How do we discern our part in the “team”, from speaking, offering input, making decisions, and carrying out responsabilities?

In good ol’ CIT fashion….none of these questions were answered. More questions were offered and we were given lots more to consider and think about. Actually, not answering questions is probably the best thing CIT could do for us. We are forced to work things out on our own with the Lord. What better way to solve problems?

The one thing we did do was like a case study. We were divided into four teams and given four different explanations of four different cultures. We first, as a team, had to come up with what our culture looks like and acts like. Then, we were given a scenario. We were going to be divided up so one member from each team would make up a new team (meaning, four new teams with one rep. from each team comprising the new teams…I hope that makes sense). The scenario was that there was a mission board who was wanting to see how multi-cultural teams work together, so they were having a week-long missions conference in Romania and everyone had to work together to plan this conference. Each original team was given a part of the conference to plan, and then we had to come together in the new teams and work through the entire conference and come to a consensus on what the conference would look like.

The culture I was a part of was one where it’s very communal: no decisions are made independently, everyone is family, everyone is close-knit, relationships are more important than tasks…in a nutshell. This is very prevalent in Papua New Guinea and it will be similar in Latin America. Our task was to plan the Fellowship parts of the week. We had to act like our culture during this team meeting, which meant we cared more about talking to the people than getting the work done, we want lots of time for fellowship and less time for meetings and policies, and we’re concerned with how everyone is feeling – no strife! Basically, the over-all consensus from our original team was that we got trampled, disregarded, and ignored during the larger team meeting sessions.

I could go on with how the other teams acted, but that would take too much time. I’m sure half of you are asleep by now anyway! The point of this exercise was to give us an idea of what a multi-cultural team looks like and to put us in the shoes of someone from a different culture, to feel some of what they’re feeling during meetings and understand more of where they’re coming from. It was EXTREMELY affective. I will never look at multi-cultural teams the same ever again.

Today, we moved on to Leadership. Brian said that he was a little frustrated because they talked today about, basically, perfect leadership and the odds are, hardly any of us will be leaders and we’re positive our leaders will not be perfect. So, how do you handle that and what do you do? We’re not sure; hopefully, that will be covered in the future.

The one thing I will say is that today gave me a new appreciation for my father. I’ve always known he’s an affective leader; I never knew how much that’s really true until today. Last Sunday, the church we attended with our friends had a pastor who seemed to be “above” everybody else. He preached down to everybody and told us all how to live our lives – never once putting himself on the same level. It was always “you do this; you do that” – never “let’s do this together; we’re in the same boat.” He seemed unapproachable. I have never gotten that feeling from my father. My father leads by example. He goes through struggles with people in his congregation. He’s never been too proud to say, “I’ve been there; God brought me through that, too.” We talked about bearing people’s pain and how a true leader can bear the pain of many. I take that to mean – they can empathize with people in their pain, even go through some of it with them, but they are able to leave that pain at the feet of Jesus. I see that in my father. His prayer life is phenomenal. I have no doubt that he listens to people and takes their pain on himself…but there comes a very real point where he casts it on the feet of Jesus and lets Him handle it. He is an empty vessel that is used by the Lord to meet people where they’re at and love them like Jesus does.

I don’t mean to preach about my dad; I just felt like today’s class on leadership just explained to me how my dad has been in his leadership roles. I’m so proud of him. I don’t feel called to leadership, but if God ever prepares me for it and puts me in that position, at least I have a great example to follow (besides Christ Jesus Himself!).

Cultures “Stress”

We started off this morning by dividing into four groups of four and being handed instructions for a card game. Each table had its own set of instructions with a small deck of cards. We had five minutes to learn the rules of the game and begin playing. After that, the rules were taken from us and we could no longer communicate…except through gestures. After another five minutes, the winners rotated clockwise to the next table. We played another round and then we rotated, etc, for another 15 minutes. Sound easy? Oh…if only.

The first round was okay because we all had…you guessed it…the same rules. But, when we moved, we discovered that either the new players or ourselves played by a whole new set of rules. We could not talk, so the only way to explain what was going on was either to just go with it or try to gesture. Of course, there’s always the few (ahem, Karen) who don’t even catch on that people are playing differently and just simperimpose their own rules onto them! [I mentioned her name because I figure her family and friends would appreciate knowing her blunders. 🙂 hehe. She’ll get me later, I’m sure.]

Anyway – a definition of culture is, quite simply, “the rules by which the game is played.” Culture Shock can be defined as, “the disorientation we experience when all the cultural maps and guidelines we learned as children no longer work.” All of a sudden, this little role play made sense.

It was, honestly, frustrating when you learned that people were playing differently. When my team moved, we all of a sudden started losing every hand because the other team’s “trump” card was different; our rules didn’t work and weren’t gaining us any points. And we couldn’t communicate!! How INCREDIBLY frustrating!

But, then it turned fun. How in the WORLD are they doing this? How can we fit in? How can I play this so I can win? How can I stop looking so foolish and start feeling more confident? I wonder how everybody else is playing this game…

It was nice to hear during this class that culture shock is part of life. A lot of people say it’s because you’re not spiritual, you’re not mature, or you’re just not handling this well. No – in all reality – it’s a very real experience. It affects you emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. You can get actually physically ill from culture shock! This is real!

The nice part is…we aren’t gonna die. We’re gonna get through it. It’s up to us how we handle it. I’m positive we’ll break at some point (probably myself more often than Brian…), but that’s okay. It’s normal. 

It was interesting to hear them relate it all to self-esteem. Basically, when you feel like you’re not fitting in and things aren’t going well and you’re not catching on as quickly as you’d like to, you feel like it’s you. You feel like there’s something wrong with you! The common thoughts are, “I am abnormal; I am unspiritual; I missed God’s call; I am not skilled for ministry; God is punishing me.” It’s an attack.

So – my request is that when we head off to our new home – please be praying for us. They say the normal cycle for getting used to a culture is two full years. Well, that’s our first term. To be honest, that’s not horribly encouraging. So, will you join our prayer team? We could use all the help we can get!!  

What is truth?

Yes, the question that Pontius Pilate grappled with the day he consented to crucify Christ was the question we grappled with today. It’s horribly confusing and I’m not going into it all here. But, basically, what they brought up was that what looks true to us has actually been greatly influenced by our culture, not necessarily by solely the Word of God. So, truth looks different in every culture. In America, we consider cheating on a test as a form of stealing. In the Far East, they consider not sharing your answers a much, much bigger sin than sharing your answers so everyone does well. What is truth? What is sin? Is it culturally defined or is it all clearly laid our in Scripture? Here’s the end to the “Reflection Paper” I wrote today about it. It won’t clear anything up, but at least you can see a tad of what Brian and I (and the others here) are working through.

So, “what is truth?” Christ. He is the only truth and He is the only One that can reveal truth to each individual heart. He’s molded my view of truth many times; I’m sure He’s not done yet. I’m excited to work with another culture because I hope that it will broaden my view of truth – which, in reality, will broaden my view of Christ. Isn’t my goal to know Him better and more fully? I cannot imagine a better way to do that than to enter another culture, another worldview, another epistemology, and learn from them. It’s not going to be easy, but God never promised that either. He did promise me a Helper Who will guide me into all truth, regardless of what country I happen to be in at the time.

Culture Theory

Today, we just brushed the surface of Culture Theory. Basically, we talked about how our view of a culture will establish our strategy for reaching that culture. Let me just basically copy my notes because they say it better than I can.

The Scriptural Perspective on Culture:

 God created Adam and Eve – all are created in the image of God. God ultimately started a culture. Sin affected all of human culture – God was grieved by culture and decided to wipe out all but a small group. God multiplied human languages and scattered speakers throughout the world – diversity of culture was part of God’s plan! Abraham moved cross-culturally with a new message – his moving out was the start of a new God-ordained culture. Jesus was born into a specific culture – God used a specific culture to orchestrate His plan of redemption; the virgin birth, the census, the Roman empire with roads and general world peace. The Great Commission is the mandate for us to go cross-culturally – Jesus did not command us to change the people groups, just to bring the Gospel to them; no particular method of obedience, just obedience to God. And lastly, Revelation assures us that one day, representatives from every human culture will be present among the redeemed of God before His holy throne – still worshiping God in their own language!

These quotes sum up everything:

“There is also a synergy of the church universal, across time and culture. A local assembly takes strength in a world full of local assemblies, diversified in practice, united in the Spirit. The cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 joins a storefront congregation in the South Bronx. The South Bronx communion unites itself, by faith and in mutual indwelling, with an underground church in China, one in Christ with the congregants in the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Charismatics join with sacramentalists, grape juice mixes with wine, drum sets harmonize with pipe organs, formality links with informality, rich unite with poor, and so on throughout the past, present, and future world of the redeemed and the assembled. In each local gathering a synergy of son goes up to God through Christ. Corporate confession, corporate prayer, corporate hearing (both of Word and homily), coroporate grief, corporate praise, corporate Communion, corporate giving of gifts, corporate alleluias, and corporate hush – all of these combined into a not-to-be repeated whole by the work of the Spirit.” – Harold M. Best


“We are not called to reform the culture as such. We are called, rather, to transform the world by living out a radical altyernative that the world cannot know apart from the lives of God’s people. Certainly we will influence the culture. How, in view of the resurrection reality can we not do so? For God’s people, influence on the culture is a by-product of their transformed lives.” – Alice P. Matthew/M. Gay Hubbard

And lastly…

“…It’s interesting to note in Revelation how distinct languages are still used in heaven. Our bodies have changed – we don’t even know what we will look like when we enter heaven! Our marriages no longer exist. Our sin has been completely eradicated. But, our languages, our nationalities, our culture, if you will, remains the same. God created each people group for a distinct purpose. He rested after creation only after He created man and woman and said it was “very good.” Just like men and women use their differences to glorify God, so also do different cultures use their differences to glorify God in a way that some of us have never seen. Worship is expressed differently in every culture around the entire globe and God is glorified in all of it. Why would He change that in eternity? More importantly, why would we want to change that now?” – Me.