Don’t Screw Up Your Investment in Eternal Things

coinsWe are given limited resources, how are we going to use them? It doesn’t matter what we do, the years we have on this earth are limited so we need to use them wisely. In the same way, at whatever level of income we find ourselves, we need to use our funds with wisdom. The parable of the talents was taught by Jesus for a reason. We need to realize everything we have belongs to our Heavenly Father and it’s just been entrusted to us. We need to use what we have responsibly, not on a whim, not in areas that don’t matter in the eternal sense. Below are some random thoughts, I claim no wisdom in this area, just bringing up some observations.

If you’re buying a house, a car, or planning for retirement, you spend some time defining your goals and researching the finer details. Where do I want to buy a house? What kind of car do I want that I can afford?”  When we’re spending our hard earned money, we want the best return on our investment. We need to put the same effort into our decisions of where and how to give. Is this charity a wise investment of my resources? Does this donation have a long-term impact? Does this group requesting my help have a track record of using resources wisely? These are questions that are important to look at when you’re deciding where to invest your donor dollars.

A couple of things to consider:

Give more than just seasonally. Ask anyone who runs a non-profit and they will tell you it’s not only retailers that look forward to Black Friday. Yearend giving is huge. Not just for tax purposes, people just really like to donate over the holidays. It’s a warm, fuzzy, emotional, giving season and some people are making up for not donating through the year. For whatever reason, December is a great time to run a charity. The thing is, there are needs throughout the year, not just in December. A good example is food banks, they turn a lot of people and perishable food away during thanksgiving because EVERYBODY wants to help for that one holiday. Food banks need help in January, in April, pretty much throughout the year, not just for Thanksgiving. The essential work that charities perform are rarely seasonal; people have needs every week. Give accordingly.

Give to what works and has an impact, not just the greatest apparent need. The orphanage my team runs looks homey and well cared for. We have bright, clean buildings, well-kept landscaping, and a large property. We’re this way because there have been decades of work put into it by visiting groups and our staff. Our children here in our home also work hard to keep the place clean and well maintained. We’re all proud of our home, and want it to be nice for the people who visit. So what’s the problem? People walk in, and their first thought is “Well, they must not need my help.” Some people straight up tell me “I was looking for a sadder, more depressing orphanage.” That’s OK, I understand, but it’s still frustrating. We sometimes feel penalized for doing a good job.

Having beautiful buildings doesn’t mean we don’t have needs. Our buildings are complete but we need to heat and light them, we need to pay for hot water for showers and staffing to care for kids. Yes, our kids are in school, but transportation is a massive challenge for us. We need to feed everyone three times a day and pay for on-going medical needs. We depend on small donations to care for our kids and keep the doors open. Looks can be deceiving; a great organization usually needs great funding to continue the work.

When someone asks for a “needier” orphanage, I will gladly send them to some other homes in our area, but also send them with some advice. “Go, give a lot, help all you can, but if you don’t see any changes in a few months, start to ask questions.” There are always needs, but if an organization is in a constant, desperate need for funding, they might not be managing what they have responsibly. I know one orphanage that would always keep one broken window so people could pay to have it fixed. (It never got fixed). Give where you see the money will be used responsibly and for the intended purpose.

Give to help in an emergency, but not just what’s trendy. 9/11 almost put us out of business. “But wait, you’re an orphanage in Mexico, how did 9/11 affect you?” Almost all US giving shifted from existing needs and went to New York organizations. The need was real, but so were the needs of every other organization where day-to-day donations stopped for about 60 days. At this point, I know whenever there is a hurricane, earthquake, or some other national event we will see a major drop in donations for a few weeks. The other draw for some people is whatever is trendy. The joke in some non-profit circles is “If you want funding, just put “human trafficking” or “well drilling” on your website.” These are the two hot causes being donated towards right now. Both are worthy causes, both need to be addressed, but there are other ongoing needs and challenges all around us. Give with a purpose, not just emotion. Find a cause or need you’re passionate about and commit to it.

There are books written about what I just tried to cover in under 1,000 words. I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic, and I’m sure some people disagree with these ideas. But how we use the funds entrusted to us matters a great deal. Give, give a lot, but give wisely.

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Orphans Are A Big Deal To God

pexels-photo-798096Anyone who works with orphaned or abandoned children can quote James 1:27 by heart: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” It’s the go-to verse whenever one is teaching or sharing about orphan care. But references to orphans, and God’s heart for the orphan, are sprinkled throughout the Bible. If we want to care about the things that are important to God, orphans and orphan care need to be in that mix.

Below are a few biblical themes that come up often regarding orphans:

God has deep compassion for orphans: Hosea 14:3 “For in You the fatherless find compassion.” Psalm 68:5 “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows, is God in his holy habitation.” There are verses throughout the Bible that teach us that God has great compassion for the fatherless. He has profound and endless love for His children. He hurts for those who are hurting and seeks to comfort them. Biblically, it is clear that caring for orphans is close to the heart of God. His heart is with the outcast, those that society looks down on. Our God is one of profound compassion.

God seeks justice for orphans: Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” We live in a broken world. There are great injustices in this world and there will be until we die. Different forms of abuse, corruption, and abandoned children are just a few of the many unjust issues that are so common. We are surrounded by so much pain that it’s easy to become blind to it. God is not. As painful as it might be, we cannot live in denial to the vile things that go on all around us. If we are walking with our Lord, we need to be defending those in need, the fatherless, those who can not defend themselves. Justice is a fundamental part of God’s character. He seeks to correct injustices and we are called to do the same. Psalm 82:3-4 “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

God’s people Share Their Resources with Orphans: Deuteronomy 10:18 “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 14:29 “And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” We are called to give to others. We can not get around this one. Most people reading this have been richly blessed financially, and we need to be acutely aware that all this blessing isn’t ours. The riches we have are God’s, and we have a responsibility to use them for His glory and His work. I’m a big believer in having a “diversified portfolio” of giving. Yes, give to the church, but then spread the funds around to causes that matter to God. There are well-run organizations around the world who know how to use what little they have to create great impact for the Kingdom, and orphan care. Seek out responsible, well run organizations and back them. Money is like cow manure, spread it around and it can do some good, just stack it up and it really stinks.

God has adopted us into His Family, He wants us to do the same for others. John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” We have the incredible privilege to call God our Father. Through nothing we have done, other than accept this gift, we have been adopted into His family, and the family of believers. We have been given a Heavenly Father and countless brothers and sister in this world. By being adopted into this grand family, we are part of something richer and more profound than anything we can imagine. For an orphan or abandoned child, they know they are alone in this world, and they hurt to belong to a family. We might not think we could ever actually adopt a child, but it is something to consider. There is no greater gift we can give to another person than adopting them into our family. God has done this for us. If we can, we need to pay it forward. If we can’t adopt, we can help those who have or are adopting.

Orphan care is near to the heart of God. As we grow in our relationship with Him, we begin to take on His image. As we grow in our faith, our compassion for those hurting around us needs to grow. Our compassion for the abandoned, and caring for the orphaned and abandoned around us is a natural progression of our faith. Find your way to care for orphans. It’s important to God, it needs to be important to us.

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You Are the Missions Field

crossThere’s something a lot of people don’t consider. When your mission team travels to Mexico, Africa, or some other country, you’re probably assuming you’re going to share the Gospel. The reality is, the missionaries and ministries you’re visiting see you as the missions field, they see you as someone who needs to experience the Gospel as you’ve never imagined.

When I took my first trip to Africa, I was surprised by the sheer number of churches. Every city, town, and village seemed to have more than their share of churches representing a wide range of denominational and non-denominational faiths. These churches weren’t just buildings; these churches were full and alive whenever the doors were open. There were Bible verses written on most cars, and about half the billboards were advertising churches or church events. I quickly realized that the people we came to serve already had plenty of people come and share the gospel. The population as a whole was more excited about God than any area I had visited in the U.S. It kind of surprised me. “Wait a minute, I thought we came here to share the Gospel?”

People have been traveling the world sharing the good news for a very long time. At this point, it’s actually kind of hard to find a country where missionaries haven’t been working and sharing for many years. When I was in Malawi, I visited a monument in honor of the missionaries who had come from England in the late 1700’s. I was not bringing a new message. So what was the trip to Africa about?

If you’re following trends, or you’ve been in a church lately, you’ll quickly notice that churches in the U.S. are shrinking and closing at a rate never seen before. In spite of all the programs, activities, and trying to keep up with social changes, people are leaving the church in droves. ( pewforum.org: america’s-changing-religious-landscape/ ) Most of the world now sees the U.S. as the missions field, as an area desperately in need of the Gospel.

Maybe we need to look at “missions” in a new light.

For as long as there have been missionaries, the model has been, “We have the Gospel, we need to go over to that country over there and share this with others.” Maybe we need to flip the tables on missions and say, “Those people, over there, in that country, have a faith that’s deeper, wider, and more life-changing than mine. What can I learn from them?”

Around the world, there are missionaries, ministries, and churches that are alive and thriving. In many countries where churches suffer under persecution or severe poverty, they are trusting God and living out their faith in ways that most Americans have a hard time imagining. When we travel on short-term missions, we have the incredible opportunity to bump up against heroes of the faith who are living, breathing, examples of how the early apostles lived and walked.

I’m not saying U.S. short-term missions teams don’t bring something incredibly valuable to the table. U.S. teams bring technical know-how, skilled labor, and tremendous resources that keep ministries around the world open and operating. There are clinics, schools, and orphanages in the majority of countries that might not be open without the assistance of the teams that travel the world to serve. Through teams visiting, ministries in developing countries can share at a deeper level about their work. They can share the many ways people can partner with them to change lives.

We as a church need to view missions as a reciprocal relationship. A symbiotic partnership where both parties, the teams traveling and the people hosting, have something precious to share with each other. The idea of reciprocal missions brings a level of respect to both parties, seeing each other as valuable and knowledgeable, each in their own way.

So how do we walk in reciprocal missions? As in any healthy relationship, we need to communicate. If you’re planning a trip, try to find out what the real needs of your destination are and how to help in those areas. Once you get to where you’re going, listen. Listen to your host, listen to their stories, attend church with them to experience what church is like for them. It really is OK to attend a church in another country and not have your leader preach, or your team perform a drama. Sometimes, just showing up to experience and support a church can be a profound experience.

When we have a team hosted by our ministry, we hurt for them when they’re “here,” but they’re not present. Their eyes are closed to the opportunities to learn. We have a great team here in Mexico, and we love to share with visiting missions groups. I recently offered to have one of my team share with a group around a campfire and was told, “No, we have our own programs, we don’t need your team.” Every night, they had their same leaders, share the same messages they could have heard at home. They missed a tremendous opportunity.

Go on a mission trip, but go with a little different agenda. Go to serve, but also go as an education, as an opportunity to stretch your faith, your walk, and what your life might be. If we go with a healthy, humble, servant’s attitude, everybody wins.

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“It’s Good Enough For Orphans.”

asia_children_joy_life_missions_myanmar_orphans_people-1174482-jpgd.jpegOver the years, I like to think I’ve become a patient man, my wife might disagree, but I still like to believe that I’ve mellowed. A few comments can still get me angry to the point that I reach for my blood pressure meds: “It’s good enough for Mexico,” or the more offensive “It’s good enough for an orphanage.” Or the similar thought process that’s the absolute most offensive: “It’s good enough for orphans.” There are times that behind my smiling facade, I want to punch someone.

There are a lot of definitions of “orphan” in the child care field: a child with no living relatives, a child that’s been abandoned, or a child that’s been removed from parents that are so abusive they’ve lost all parental rights. The common tragedy in all of this is a child who is alone in this world. Depending on who you talk to, and how the statistics are put together, there are around 150 million orphaned or abandoned children somewhere in the world. There is an astounding amount of need out there.

I only share these statistics to show the breadth and depth of the problem. It’s a broken world with a lot of messed up people, and there are a LOT of hurting kids out there. One of the problems is when you reduce orphans to a number it stops being a hurt, scared, child in need and becomes a figure on a spreadsheet or just another blog post. You can look at the big picture, but we as a church and individuals need to see the life of each individual child in need as a tragedy that needs to be addressed. Each abandoned child had his or her own story, needs, and horrible situations that have played out, and they are suffering because of it. They are not numbers in a system. They are precious children, created in God’s image, that society has failed to care for.

Most orphanages and foster care situations are fairly sad or outright horrible. There might be some great people involved, but they are frequently undertrained, underfunded, and under-appreciated. When people visit our home for the first time, the reaction is pretty predictable: “This place is great, it looks like Disneyland.” I’m not saying this to show how great we are; I’m saying this to show what low expectations people have of orphanages. So many orphanages are sad and depressing places that society has come to expect them to be bad. Sadly, society has also come to accept that an orphanage and foster care situation has to be less than it should be. We need to do better. We need a higher standard.

At our orphanage, we host a great number of short-term mission groups every year. We’ve seen the best and worst of teams. We can tell very quickly what the attitude of the group is, and how much thought went into their trip. There is one visiting group that has never donated funding, but we love to have them visit because of the way they love our kids. They perform dramas and run activities that draw our kids in, and shows them how important they are. You can tell this group wants to minister at a level that’s incredible, practiced, and worthy of our kids. We also have the groups that buy the ready-made craft from the back of a Sunday school supplies catalog and they just don’t care when they’re here. By their actions and attitudes, they are clearly saying: “It’s good enough for orphans.”

Once, I was speaking at a Rotary Club and during the “question and answer” time, I was asked by someone “How nice should an orphanage be?” You could tell by his tone that he thought our orphanage was a little too nice. I probably answered harsher than should have by replying: “Well, if you got hit and killed by a semi later today, how nice of a home would you like your children placed into?” By mentally placing our own kids into an orphanage, it brings into sharp focus the level of quality our work with orphans should have.

As Christians, whatever we do should be of the highest quality, especially orphan care. It’s not that we’re earning favor with God, it’s that we’re representing and serving our King. Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do unto Me.” What are we offering our King?

Biblically it’s clear that the church, and individuals in the church, have a responsibility to care for orphans: James 1:27. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” We have this example and mandate. Some churches do a GREAT job of seeking out and caring for the lost. I’ve encountered churches that are known for their culture of orphan care, foster care, and adoption. I recently spoke at a church gathering where over half the people present had either adopted children or been adopted, by someone in the church. All churches should be known as “The ones who care for orphans.”

Nobody is perfect. No ministry or individual is always going to get it right every time. But whether it’s serving in our community, or during a mission trip, it needs to be done with quality. We need to look at how we care for orphans and widows. We need to ask ourselves if we are saying with our attitudes and actions: “It’s good enough for orphans.”

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Sometimes Ministry Doesn’t Suck

hospitalThe current trend in nonprofit fundraising is to “tell a story.” All of the articles tell you to put a face on your ministry by sharing one or more solid success stories. This is all well and good in that it helps people to understand the goals of whatever ministry is being promoted. But the reality is, for every glowing success story, there are many times when it just doesn’t work. You cannot save everyone. Sometimes ministry sucks.

Talk to anyone who runs a shelter for abused women. In spite of the best counseling and support, way too many abused women will decide to go back to their abusers. If you run a rehab center the reality is way too many people cycle in and out of programs for years before the grip of addiction is broken, many people never reach that point of healing. For those who work serving homeless individuals and families, it’s a shockingly rare situation that can move people out of the cycle of poverty and into secure housing, work, and a future.

If you pastor a church, you know how heartbreaking the work can be. You do your best for the members of your church, lovingly guiding, teaching, and encouraging them. But so often people choose to go an entirely different direction. Members of your church will fall victim to attacks, whether subtle or direct. People you considered solid Christians will fall away. Couples you thought were a great example will have affairs and/or divorces and lives are destroyed. People in your church will shock you in their ability to turn on each other.

As someone who has helped to run an orphanage for a very long time, I can tell you firsthand it can be incredibly painful and frustrating work. We can raise and care for a child for years, doing our best to pour into them and guide them into healing, but it doesn’t always work. Ultimately as a child moves through teenage years into adulthood, they make their own decisions. It tears us up when we watch young adults we’ve worked so hard with make decisions that will head them in the wrong direction.

So what’s the point of this rambling stream of negativity? Believe it or not, this is meant as an encouragement for those who are currently serving in ministry, and suffering through the pains and frustrations of failure. No, it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can make all of the suffering and pain worthwhile.

Very recently a great young man who was raised in our home passed away much too young. Marcos was about 40 and passed after an extended illness surrounded by his wife, friends, my wife, and myself. Obviously, this was a painful event, and a great deal of mourning and healing is still taking place. In spite of the painful situation, the evening he passed away, in the midst of the emotional storm we were all going through, I found a moment of profound joy.

We knew Marcos’ time was short, and several people rushed to the hospital to visit and say their farewells. About an hour before the end, three different men showed up who were raised together with Marcos in our home. Although none of them are blood-related, they consider each other brothers and they’re some of my many children. All three have built their own lives, and have their own growing families, but in the midst of that trauma, I saw them in a whole new light. In a few moments, they went from being my children to being responsible men handling a difficult situation with astounding grace. Over the course of the evening, one made a point to comfort the new widow, giving her space and allowing her to grieve, but also making sure she had everything she needed. One went to work with the hospital sorting out the paperwork, the billing, and all the bureaucracy that goes on when a life ends. The third one brought a guiding hand and a calm voice to begin making funeral preparations. All three demonstrated a maturity that I had never noticed before. I’ve never been prouder.

Ministry doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. Those men who stepped up in a hard situation are examples of how ministry can change lives. Not everyone who walks through your church, rehab, shelter, or orphanage will receive the help you want to give them, but some will. We can’t (and shouldn’t) force our will on anyone brought into our ministry, and many won’t want our help. But when it does work, and lives are changed, hang on to that. It’s why we do what we do. We also never know how the seeds we plant might take root and grow years down the road. Our job is to do the best we can, representing Christ well.

Jesus didn’t reach everyone. Many people rejected His message, His healing, His offer of help. But some accepted Him, that’s why He came and did what He did. He knew most people would reject Him, but His efforts were worth the few who made the right decisions. We are not Christ (far from it) but we are called to share of Him and carry out the work He has called us to do. The work we do is worth the few who can be reached. Keep it up.

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Missionaries Are Messed Up

summer-sunshine-alcohol-drinkI recently sent a small, short-term mission team to visit another ministry. This other ministry does some incredible work and is lead by a profoundly inspiring man. The group spent a full day experiencing the ministry, listening to the stories of what goes on and saw how God is moving. They were impressed and impacted. They were also surprised that the leader of the ministry was wearing a Call of Duty T-shirt. “Missionaries don’t play Call of Duty.” Mmmm, maybe a little…

I love the line “Missionaries are normal people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.” This is so accurate. Some people think missionaries are somehow more spiritual or together than most. We really aren’t. I hang-out with a LOT of missionaries and let me tell you, we have some issues. Below are a couple of examples that might surprise a few people.

We like to have a beer now and then. (three baptists just passed out reading this). I’m not saying missionaries sit around and get drunk, but a nice IPA between friends, when not out in public, is good now and then.

We use dark humor to cope. “Why is it always better to date and marry adult orphans? No in-laws.” We deal with some of the worst issues in society: abandoned children, sex trafficking, things most people do not want to think about. It’s common for people working in emergency rooms, people in law enforcement, or anyone who works in life and death every day to use dark humor. It’s weird and disturbing, but it does help people to survive and cope. (I can’t write some of the jokes here, fairly offensive, use your imagination)

We worry about money more than we should. About twenty-five years ago, when my wife and I started in missions, we had a company that was fully supporting us. It worked for about three years and then the company went bankrupt. Scared the cr-p out of me. I know, I’m supposed to trust 100% in God and talk about how He will provide, but when you have your one source of support suddenly end, it tends to “stretch your faith.” I do know God will provide (He has) but when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from it can be complicated. Recently a group of missionaries were hanging out in my office, and someone asked “How much can I get for a kidney on the black market? (they were kidding, but somebody helpfully Googled it for them) Fundraising is a much bigger part of missions work than most people will tell you.

We watch/read/listen to the same stuff you do. A leader on our team uses his spare time to attend Comic-con every year and he loves superhero movies. I recently binge-watched Breaking Bad again. At any given time I would say the music my staff listens to is 50/50 Christian or secular. We have an informal staff meeting over coffee every morning, and you’d be amazed (or shocked) to be a fly on the wall. Sometimes after an exceptional odd meeting, I joke with my team “Other missions teams talk about favorite Bible verses or devotional themes, if people only knew about our conversations…”

I know of one ministry in our area that has a PERFECT social media presence; all photos of prayer and service and well-lit images of their leaders speaking in front of churches. They give a very polished, clean, holy presentation to everyone who visits their ministry. I kind of struggle with it. While doing some great work, I know them, and I know they have their share of flaws and fears. You would never know it by the way they present themselves. I think more people would join them in their work if they were a little more approachable, a little more transparent, a little more real.

George Müller was a Christian evangelist and the director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England during the 1800s. He’s a missionary and orphan care hero and legend. Maybe I’m cynical, but along with the truly incredible work he did I have a feeling George had his bad days. He probably did worry about money now and then, got mad at his dog, felt like punching someone occasionally. That doesn’t diminish the great work that was done; it just makes him human.

The point of this is not to bash missionaries or shock anyone. The point I want to make very clear is that God uses regular people. I hear from people all the time that they’re not ready to serve; they’ll serve when they’re good enough, when they have enough support, when they’ve paid off their student loans. Here is some news: you’ll never be good enough, you’ll never have enough support, go anyway. If we’re waiting for the “perfect” time or circumstances to step out and serve God it will never happen. God does not use perfect people. God uses the broken. God uses the available. If we wait until we get our act together, we will be dead and in a box before we do anything.

Go serve someone; you’re more ready than you think you are.

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Being Present Changes Lives

restaurant-hands-people-coffeeThe best way to help anyone is to be present in their life. In missions, often our American mentality is that we have to build something, we have to paint something, we need to bring something tangible. Tangible projects and supplies are greatly needed, and they do help, but people are crying out for connection.

People in missions (and in life) need others who will listen, people who will encourage, people who bring dignity to lives. Too often, the people on the receiving end of missions are seen as the “target” of the mission, as opposed to real people who have lives, opinions, and their own walk with God. Maybe, all they need is a loving, compassionate ear. Someone to see them as an equal. Maybe they have something powerful they can share with us if we listen.

Not that long ago, I had a young US pastor in my office while his group was working with the kids in our orphanage. I asked him how he was doing, and he gave me a standard, polite, canned answer. I then asked him again. “NO, HOW-ARE-YOU-REALLY-DOING?” I explained: “I know being the leader can be a lonely, hard experience. I want to know how you’re doing.” His eyes got incredibly wide, and then a little watery. He began to pour out his heart about the pain and loneliness he was feeling, that he felt had no one he could talk to. He shared how hard the last two years of ministry had been on his marriage. The floodgates opened, and I believe it was deeply healing for him. I am not that bright, I don’t give wise counsel, but I was just available and willing to listen. It had been a very long time since this pastor had anyone really listen to him.

To be present in someone’s life takes some effort, but being present is what ultimately changes people’s lives. People remember an emotional connection long after any store-bought gift is long forgotten.

Several years ago, I had just started meeting with a small ministry in Southern California about a ministry partnership. We had met a few times and it was just the start of a relationship, we really didn’t know each other that well. About that time, my father-in-law passed away, and I needed to cancel a meeting with them to attend the graveside service. Halfway through the service, I noticed a gentleman standing a little to the side. One of the leaders of this ministry took the time to drive about an hour to the cemetery, just to be present and see if we needed anything. I was blown away. Who does that? From that point on I was drawn to that ministry and wanted to be part of it.

Often, in short-term missions, and in ministry in general, too many people focus on what they have to give. “I need to give them this message, I need to counsel them, I need to fix this for them.” Sure, people can use help, and it’s good to share the gospel with anyone, but people will be way more receptive if they know you care about them as more than a target for ministry. When you go on a mission trip, it’s good to really spend time with people, to get to know them as individuals with their own rich lives. We all need to see others as people, not projects.

A good friend of mine recently shared this story: “I was discussing the cost of a trip to Cuba with a man of means who considers himself an accomplished missionary. He said it was a waste of money to spend what it costs for transportation, food, and lodging for someplace as close as Cuba, and we’d be better stewards just sending cash. We went anyway. I was given the opportunity to travel to places that haven’t seen an American since the 1950’s, preaching every night for over two weeks in small house churches. The last night, we were in a place that had abandoned American factories rusting all over the village. The pastor came to me in tears and thanked me for coming. He said we were the first Americans to EVER care enough for him to come and share with him and his church. Had we just sent money, he would still not believe that we cared for him. I would have missed out on meeting an incredible man of God.”

If you look at the three stories shared, the pastor in my office, the visit to the cemetery, and my friend’s trip to Cuba, they all have one thing in common. Each story was just people taking the focus off their own goals and agendas and listening. Listening is a lost art. With all the noise and distraction in our world today, taking the time to really listen to others is very rare.

Jesus gives us the perfect example. Before He shared His critical message, He almost always asked about the person in front of Him. “What do you seek?” When He noticed Zacchaeus in the tree, Jesus asked to stay in his house. He wanted to spend time with him. Jesus was (and is) all about making personal connections. He’s never seen anyone as only a project; He sees each of us as individuals through eyes of pure grace. He is available to us. We need to do the same with those we encounter. It’s a good model for missions, and life.

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