Tuesday, September 29, 2015

So thankful

Lately I've just been thinking about how thankful I am for the education opportunities our family has. We have chosen to homeschool for general education. In a country where homeschooling is unheard of, I get to talk to people about it a lot. And every time I come back to the fact that I'm so thankful that we can do this! It's hard--many days homeschooling takes all that I have to give--but it's such a privilege.

Then, beyond that, our children have opportunities that they would probably never have if they lived in the USA. I know that we wouldn't be able to afford the kind of music education that they are getting at the local public music school. Our oldest is in his sixth year of playing piano, studying serious music theory, music history and literature, and singing in choir. Our second is learning to play balalaika, along with some piano, and all the theory and history and literature that her older brother gets.

And there's still more! There's a private art school that rents space at our church. Three of our children take lessons there. They love every minute of it, and, again, they're getting a very serious art education. It's more than I could give them at home, even if I had the time and skills needed, not to mention all the supplies and materials. Plus, the people who work there and the other kids provide a great community for us to be a part of.

Even for me, there are huge education blessings. This summer I got to go speak at and attend a homeschool event in America. That was beyond anything I would have dreamed of before. Also, this very week, I'm attending a ministry school on the other side of the country from where we live. (I wrote and scheduled this post in advance.) My own education continues every day, too.

Of course, there are difficulties in providing and choosing education. I'm not making light of that. But today I'm celebrating the wonders of what my own family gets to experience.

What are you most thankful for in your family's education?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Our Schooling Journey in Russia

My husband and had I decided exactly how we wanted to school our children while still in cross-cultural training even before we left for the field. We listened to talks about all of the various options, listened to personal testimonies from families using each of these options, talked together about our priorities for our family and ministry, and by the end of this segment on schooling options, we were really excited about going the route of national school.

We moved to Russia, and when our first child was old enough, we started her in Russian pre-school so that she could get a strong language foundation. Right away we discovered an amazing pre-school that all of our children have loved and truly flourished in. It was a perfect start to our educational plan. 

After a few years of pre-school, it was time to start Russian first grade. Everything started off fine, but we soon realized that even with the years of Russian pre-school, our daughter still didn’t have the language to really grasp all that she was learning. It was first grade though, so we just figured that things would get easier over time.

 Things did get better, but after a month or two we ran against other unexpected problems. It turned out our neighborhood school was among the worst in the city and had a constant rotation of teachers coming and going.  We also learned that all of the troubled children were sent to our school. We ended up having to remove our daughter from her class for a period of time due to the physical danger presented by violent classmates who were fighting, throwing tables and chairs, kicking kids in the stomach, and other things. It was awful. We switched schools.

The second school was much better, but when we first asked the teacher, who was nervous about teaching our daughter, how teachers usually work with children who didn’t speak fluent Russian, her response was, “Well usually the children DO speak fluent Russian.” She had no idea what to do with us. There is no Russian as a Second Language program here. The teacher was very kind and wanted to help, but she simply had no idea how. Her solution was to give extra homework to help my daughter catch up. We ended up drowning in homework that my daughter absolutely could not do on her own. I had to sit with her for hours each day after school, which left my other 3 kids with inadequate attention from me, and left me mentally and emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed.  

At the end of 2nd grade, my husband and I had some good long talks about school and our hopes for our kids. We realized that we were fighting so hard to make Russian school work when in reality it wasn’t even fulfilling the purposes for which we originally chose this route. Our hopes had been that our kids would really feel like they fit in with the kids where we lived and that they would feel connected, and we had hoped that being a part of the local school would make us as parents more connected to our community. In reality, though, our daughter was beginning to hate Russian and many aspects of Russian culture and wanting to escape it, and I was so busy with homework that I had no time or energy for people outside of our family. These two years were the most stressful and isolating years of all of my 9 years in Russia. 

We ended up deciding to go a new route that we had never thought we would. We put our children into an English-speaking Christian international school. Despite our previous ideas about why this would not be the best route for our family, we quickly saw that in fact it was God’s perfect provision for us! As a result of our school, I now have a community of believing women to have fellowship regularly, and we all have so much more emotional and physical strength to be able to pour into our relationships with Russian friends in our community. What I thought would have separated us from the culture has actually given us the reserve energy to be able to delve in more deeply. Praise the Lord for His perfect plan and leading!

So of course I don’t write this to discourage anyone from going with national schools. I have heard so many wonderful success stories with that route, obviously. We heard enough for us to have desired this for our own family! I do write this though as an encouragement to have a clear definition of your priorities for your children’s schooling option, and to periodically re-evaluate whether or not your schooling option is now or could in the future meet your goals. If not, that may be a good time to either re-evaluate your goals or your schooling option. 

What are some of your family’s top priorities in choosing a schooling option? Have you ever switched schooling options, and if so, why?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Back to School

We're going to be trying something new here on Missionary Mom's Companion!  The contributors are going to be working together to write about a common theme that applies to our unique roles as moms serving cross-culturally.  We'll be focusing on our first theme through the end of October, and then our plan will be to have monthly themes starting in November.

So, our first theme is...



Oh my, isn't this a huge topic??  I didn't realize how big of an issue it would be for us as a family until recently, when our kids reached school age.  As with many things living overseas, our plans for education have not worked out how I envisioned, and, ironically enough, we currently have our kids doing the only option that I had said (when we first arrived in Costa Rica) that I would definitely not do! 

I think that the biggest lesson I've learned so far on this topic is that the choices we make about our kids' education are going to look different depending on each family and even each child within a family.  Our decisions will be based on so many different factors -- what schooling options are available, the needs, values, and parenting styles of our family, the individual needs of each child, our ministry, the culture in which we're serving, etc.  So, as we approach this topic here on Missionary Mom's Companion, it is definitely not our goal to come to a conclusion about the best way to educate a child overseas... because I firmly believe that there isn't one best way!  Rather, we hope to share our hearts and varied experiences in a way that provides mutual encouragement in this area that can be so challenging for us as missionary moms.

I am still at the beginning of our kids' journey in education, so I know that I'm going to be learning so much more in the years ahead.  I'm excited about sharing some of what I've learned so far, as well as hearing from other missionary moms around the world about this topic!  In sharing on this topic, it is my hope that we'll hear not just from those contributing posts, but also from so many more moms in the comments.  I'm really looking forward to hearing from you all! 

As we approach this huge topic, what would you like to know about other missionary moms' experiences with education here on Missionary Mom's Companion?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Longevity ~ "It's a wrap!"

Finally, eh?

Over a year and thirteen posts later, this series - first inspired by a sermon my pastor preached - has finally concluded.

For my own benefit - and hopefully some of you will appreciate this as well - I am concluding with a final post that will hopefully summarize key points of this discussion and which will, at the conclusion, provide links to all of the posts in the series in a single spot.

Longevity, defined in its most basic terms, refers to length of service or tenure. After all of the work, time, goodbyes and oft' painful transitions into new cultures and languages, those who call themselves international workers or missionaries typically hope to have long, productive careers. Just like a doctor wouldn't want to change career directions after one or two years of work, most career missionaries do not leave for the field planning to only stay one or two years. And while there are many legitimate reasons to change that plan - "leaving before we planned to" or without planning because of something preventable prevents us from staying is something most of us would like to avoid.

We want to be able to say, right along with Paul: 

For I am now ready to be offered, 
and the time of my departure is at hand. 
I have fought a good fight, 
I have finished my course, 
I have kept the faith: 
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, 
which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: 
and not to me only, 
but unto all them also that love his appearing.

"Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed - right genes [children of God], right diet [God's Word], right exercise [involvement in ministry] and right environment [a place in God's community - the Church]."

Thus, longevity is, very simply, the number of years that God, in His sovereignty, allots you, no more and no less. Regardless of our personal opinions, the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign. Pagan kings understood and proclaimed that truth. God's Word, the existence of creation, the rules of physics, the intricacy of the human body... So many things reveal to men that there must be a sovereign God.

As men and women with limited perspective and a very finite view, we look at a crazy oxymoron where God says He is divine and yet, we also understand that we are, somehow, responsible. His Word teaches both. It doesn't make sense, no matter how hard we try. But that is because we can only see as if we are the standing at the open side of an enormous horseshoe, so enormous that we cannot see the U-shaped part of the figure. Human responsibility is on one of the separate ends; divine sovereignty at the other. Our perception, and rightly so if we lived our lives based only on what we see, is that those two are separated by a wide space... irreconcilable... There is great danger if we decide that because we can't see how they meet, they don't... that one or the other is more true and should take more priority. Those who believe the whole is God's divine sovereignty risk an extreme fatalism. Those who believe the whole is human responsibility risk extreme humanism. Neither extreme pleases or honors God.

God, however, looks at that horseshoe from above. He looks down and sees the whole and how those two principles fusing together and forming a single amazing, protecting, correcting, steadying and sustaining, healing and building reality. 

Those truths - God is sovereign and man is responsible - are so important... so necessary, as we consider the issue of longevity. 

Commonly we look at choices and decisions with a very limited view. Either the decisions we make are right. Or they are wrong. If they are right, the results are what we want and hope for. If we are wrong, then we suffer consequences. But this mentality neglects to consider that we serve not only a sovereign, but also a sufficient, God.

"Trusting [in] the sufficiency and sovereignty of God [means knowing and believing that] every day is a gift from God, Who IS the source of faithfulness." Remember that cliché often heard in church circles?  Pray like everything depends on God; work like everything depends on you. For me, at least, it is easier to work like a mad-woman... and forget to pray. Especially as a mama. Especially as a mama who is also a missionary. Even especially more as a mama who is also a missionary and who lives off of the support and gracious gifts of others. In that sense, I live my life as a "practical atheist," a term my husband coined almost 20 years ago. Even when I don't like His provision, it is still what He, sovereignly, knows to be best.

Why trust in His sufficiency and sovereignty? Even pagan kings recognize His sovereignty - think of Nebuchadnezzer in Daniel 4. We also trust because He has proven Himself faithful. We must trust because God does give faith to live, but also to die [or sometimes, to watch those we love, die] for His glory. Finally, we trust because Christ builds His church. We join Him in His work.

So we trust in the sovereignty and sufficiency of God.

What then does our responsibility side of the horseshoe look like? 

The first component is obedience.

As I've taught our children to obey, they understand that obedience looks like 
1) start right away, 
2) have a sweet attitude,
3) is just exactly what I asked for (i.e. finish)
4) without any arguing. 

Failing to meet those four standards, then it is disobedience. If I use that same standard to evaluate my obedience to God's directives for me, I'm often, very often, disobedient - even if not another person can tell. I know.

Obedience is my responsibility. Longevity in ministry requires not just that I trust in God's sovereignty and sufficiency, but also that I obey Him, particularly. How is that obedience demonstrated, day in and day out in my life? What does obedience look like?

Obedience looks like:  
  1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord, making a daily walk with Him my habit. Reading, listening, praying, writing, singing, being still, fellowshipping, confessing, repenting, fasting... are all practices I must cultivate until they are habits that I am consistently, daily and throughout the day practicing.
  2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully). Yes, it is listed as a part of the first priority in this list, but is is one practice that can never be in excess. As Hudson Taylor says, "I have seen many men work without praying, though I have never seen any good come out of it; but I have never seen a man pray without working."
  3. Maintaining balance between personal growth and service. We become metaphorical "Dead Seas" when we focus on priorities one and two (above) and never serve, give back out to those all around us what God has been pouring in. God's goodness is to be spilling up, out, over - through the meeting of practical, physical and spiritual needs.
  4. Welcoming accountability. Genuine accountability is scary. It requires vulnerability and exposure to the evaluation by and the resulting opinions, criticisms and commentary of others. It's easier and less painful to conceal and suppress detail while crafting a correct image that conforms to the expectations of others. That sort of image-crafting doesn't protect. 1 Timothy 3 lays out the qualifications God desires to see in those who serve in leadership, stating if "anyone aspires to [such a position]... let them also be tested first. Accountability gives hope because it makes me part of a team, forces humility, makes me stronger as I acknowledge where I'm weak, reminds of my need for God's grace, gentles me and makes me more likely to be gracious to others, cleanses through confession, frees from the bondage of maintaining an image or meeting others' expectations, enlists the power of prayer, promotes healing and health, and done well - accountability builds up and encourages.
  5. Committing to marriage and family.  There is no one hard and fast way to do this, for how I demonstrate my commitment to my marriage and family might look quite different than how you do. Key is an intentional, purposeful choice  first made - choosing commitment, supported by continuous effort to keep a covenant relationship, clinging to commitment… regardless. It means I support my husband in the ministry opportunities God gives him; he also supports me, giving me opportunity to serve and work - using the talents and abilities God has given me. It isn't 50/50. It is 100/100. Additionally, our actions and choices should not cause our children to "stumble" and turn away from God. 
  6. Choosing teachability. This should include several characteristics such as willing to yield without compromising truth, admitting error when wrong, acquiescing to others who can help, wanting to integrate legitimate new knowledge, secure in self-worth and standing before God, willing to risk, open to evaluation and correction, a listener, welcoming and approachable, accepting responsibility, pursuing others for the purpose of learning, and humble.
  7. Determining to be a genuine team player. Genuine teamwork submits, has a shared vision, cooperates and collaborates,  sees the advantage of teamwork, encourages participation and commitment to the team,  communicates authentically, builds unity and often suffers together. 
God offers, every moment of every day, the grace necessary to trust His sovereignty and sufficiency and the strength to pursue obedience in each of these seven priorities. 

Pursuing that grace, a grace which has already pursued and overtaken me, will enable me to serve faithfully, with longevity...


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Longevity in Ministry ~ Go fast or go far. It IS your choice...

"Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed -
right genes [to be a child of God], right diet [God's Word],
right exercise [involvement in ministry]
and right environment [a place in God's community - the Church].
The Apostle Paul set it as his goal to walk worthy and finish well. So should we!"

Yet what does the practical outworking of this look like in real life and ministry? How do expats working, ministering and seeking to be Christ’s  “…witnesses… [in] Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1.8, NASB) sustain long and productive careers?

Based off of a sermon by my home church pastor and some additional, subsequent study, I’ve identified priorities, seven of them, that when practiced, can help protect those in ministry, particularly cross-cultural ministry, from burnout and temptation. Even more than protect, these priorities can also give direction and hope as they help us remember that all is grace and a gift from God.

Those priorities are:
1.       Seeking the Lord, consistently and continually
2.       Praying without ceasing
3.       Balancing personal growth, rest and ministry
4.       Welcoming accountability
5.       Committing to marriage and family
6.       Choosing to be teachable, even in difficult circumstances; and
7.       Determining to be a genuine team player.

This post considers that final priority – determining to be a genuine team player.

I’ve always been competitive. As a young person, I competed as both a gymnast and a swimmer. I swam in college (until a torn rotator cuff ended my years as a swimmer). And while I was always part of a team… the nature of the beast in both of those sports was highly individualistic. There was always a lot of rhetoric about self being the toughest competition – and always reaching for a better score or a faster time.

But? The bottom line…at least for me?  

I wanted to be first and the one standing at the top of the podium with the blue ribbon, biggest medal, the tallest trophy... not just winning out over competitors from other teams, but also scoring higher than/touching ahead of my “teammates.”

And I was okay with that. In fact, my introverted, very private, very individualistic self actually preferred it that way. I could publically cheer for my friends and teammates, but privately celebrate when I was the winner.

So I didn’t, really, learn how to play on a team until freshly finished with university, when I joined a co-ed volleyball team while working as a short-term missionary in SE Asia. First and foremost, volleyball is much more of a team sport to begin with. Occasionally, you hit the ball directly back over the net when it comes your way… but more likely, you try and set up for some sort of play that the opposing team will not be able to return. In this league, two women had to be on the court at all times and one of the rules was that in each series of three hits, one of the women players had to touch the ball. I learned how to be a “team player” in that environment because all of the “guys,” the other players on my team, demonstrated, almost  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. what team playing looked like as they worked to position the ball so that I (or the other female) could contribute to each series of hits. At the same time, I had to learn that, unless the ball came to me for the third hit (which happened only very rarely), my job was to set the ball up so that one of the other members of my team could then slam it down as hard and quickly as possible while aiming for a space on the opposing team’s side that would make it nearly impossible to return.

It took some time to learn that – for a few reasons:
1.       I was so surprised and delighted that I’d actually get an opportunity to touch the ball that I’d hit it, sorta helter-skelter, without any sort of a plan.
2.       I, selfishly, wanted to make a super play so my team would try and get the ball to even more frequently and I could play more – forgetting that super-play skills (I’d never played volleyball before this) were still outside the realm of my ability and that physically (I’m on the shorter side, even though I did have a decent jump), some plays were going to remain forever outside my skill set.

Learning to work together with other people can be a huge challenge. We are continually pummeled with messages promoting individualism and the idea that if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. God’s Word also tells us that the world’s philosophy is that looking out for the other guy leads to a last place finish for yourself… that people will be “lovers of themselves… blasphemers, disobedient to parents… unloving, unforgiving slanderers… traitors, headstrong, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”(from 2 Timothy 3). Additionally, people aren’t always nice to work with. They have different priorities, abrasive personalities, aren’t the greatest of team players themselves, are distracted, are selfish, are arrogant, want to make a good impression on others or are just concerned with pleasing self… in a nutshell, they are sinners.

What does it take to be a team player?

I think back to some of those lessons I learned during my season as a volleyball player.
  1. Genuine teamwork must submit to the coordination of a chosen leader (Proverbs 3.5-6)
  2. Genuine teamwork requires that every part of the team understands, shares and supports the team’s existence. (Psalm 72.19, Habbakuk 2.14, Ephesians 4.4-6)
  3. Genuine teamwork requires the cooperation and collaboration that only comes as we set aside personal differences for the good of the final goal. (James 4.1)
  4. Genuine teamwork recognizes that teamwork is better, more productive and effective than individualistic effort. (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12, Mark 6.7)
  5. Genuine teamwork encourages team member faithfulness, full participation and steadfast commitment to the team objectives because the contribution of each is critical in achieving objectives. (Matthew 28.18-20, Ephesians 4.11-12)
  6. Genuine teamwork means that team members have skills they are willing to offer and competence (or willingness to become competent) in the use of those skills. (2 Timothy 3.16-17, Proverbs 27.17)
  7. Genuine teamwork involves authentic communication with the goal of building unity. (Corinthians 1.10, Philemon 1.6)
  8. Genuine teamwork is often built around shared suffering (1 Peter 4.13, Romans 8.17-18, Philippians 3.10, 2 Timothy 2.12)

 The title of this post comes from an oft quoted African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” And, no doubt about it, sticking it out together for the long haul requires genuine, sacrificial and committed teamwork.

In closing, I’d like to share what I consider to be the two most powerful Scripture passages on not just the importance of genuine teamwork, but also its absolute necessity.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!"
And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,
while our presentable parts need no special treatment.
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body,
but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
(1 Corinthians 12.20-25)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility
consider others better
than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also
to the interests of others. 
Philippians 2.3-4


In the comments, share about a positive teamwork experience where you experienced some of these principles in action?

Series: Longevity in Ministry