People are Messy

messyWe recently had someone write an extended angry rant in a message to our Facebook page. They were pissed. Thankfully it was a private message. Almost no one likes it when people are mad at them, but sometimes it’s going to happen. If you’re in ministry and you don’t get a few people frustrated now and then you’re doing it wrong. Jesus’ actions and comments had many people upset. We are a long way from Jesus, but it’s nice to know we sometimes get the same reactions as He did. You might be asking, “What did you do that got that person so angry that they would lash out?” We turned down his donation.

We get odd offers and requests from people all the time; frequently, they are great donations or other creative ways people would like to help us in our efforts. We would rarely turn down any contribution, but occasionally, it’s just not a “fit.” This, I believe, well-meaning gentleman offered us a large number of professionally framed paintings. These were, apparently, very valuable paintings. He suggested we could auction them off or use them as a fundraising tool to help our large orphanage. OK, seems fine so far, we always appreciate it when people have creative ways to help, and especially help with fundraising.

Once we expressed interest in the paintings, he sent a large file with pictures of the art. This is where it quickly got awkward. The paintings, although tastefully done, were twelve, over-sized, lifelike paintings of nude females. OK, this was a new one. My wife and I thought at first it might be someone pulling a joke. The idea of us displaying this extensive collection at a silent auction or some other event was just too weird to consider. It was simply not a fit for our ministry or almost any ministry that comes to mind. We, as tactfully as we could, explained our reasoning and turned down the donation. It was the right decision, but that didn’t change how offended he was that we would turn away his prized art.

The above story is one of many I could share of awkward moments in ministry. The time a team set up a full bar in our group housing area, the people who skip out on paying for their housing when they stay on site with us, the people who show up in yoga pants at the orphanage here in a conservative culture. (Yoga pants are just awkward anywhere …it’s never a good look.) So what’s the point of sharing this list of examples? People are messy, and until we embrace this fact, we don’t understand the point of grace. We are all messy.

In hosting many short term missions teams and visitors, we see a broad range of attitudes, agendas, and levels of maturity. With many of our visitors, we are in awe of their generosity and willingness to serve the many children in our care. For some of our groups, we occasionally smile, internally roll our eyes, and just move forward. The important thing is, always remember that none of us get it right. God shows us profoundly deeper grace than we could ever deserve, He loves us unconditionally in our messy condition, and that is what we are called to show to all those that we encounter.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have standards, in the example of the paintings, it was right for us to turn them down. Jesus has standards. He flipped the money changer’s tables, He was not afraid to call out sin. Jesus also knows that the vast majority of people are wounded; they need to be shown love; they need to be shown grace. We are called to represent a higher level of grace and love than most of us ever consider. We need to show the grace to others that the Lord has shown to us.

It’s been said that one of the keys to a happy marriage is remembering that we’re no great prize ourselves. I’ve found this to be true. Personally, I don’t know how my wife puts up with me. When we encounter people that we would like to get frustrated with, it’s always good to remember that we can also be a pain sometimes. We get it wrong a lot. We all have an excess of baggage, false ideas, and bad attitudes. Sometimes we don’t know any better.

I was once sitting in my office and looked up. A new boy in our home, about ten years old, had walked over and was peeing into the planter outside my window. Once he finished, I pulled him aside and explained that this was not appropriate, that he should probably use the bathrooms. I could have gotten upset, but I realized that he had been brought to us from an impoverished area, in his world indoor plumbing was rare, he had been peeing outside his whole life. Messy, but that is all he knew.

If you’re in ministry, and if we’re believers we’re all in ministry, we need to embrace the messy people all around us. Remember, we are all messy. Sometimes we don’t want to admit it, but we all come from an impoverished place. We all have our version of peeing in other people’s planters. We need to show the same grace to others that we need ourselves.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.

Advertisements

Ministry Purgatory

pexels-photo-262391On my first trip to Ghana, I experienced a wide range of emotions and experiences. One of the many unusual experiences was being the “elder.” I’m in my fifties, in the US today this still counts as middle-aged. (Or at least I keep telling myself that.) Statistically I have about 30 years of life left. In Ghana the life expectancy is much shorter; you just don’t see a lot of older people. The youth of Ghana, out of respect, wouldn’t let me do anything physical. Every time I tried to help set up chairs, move a bag, or even carry my plate to be washed, some teen would jump in and grab whatever I was carrying. It was like they were expecting me to keel over from a heart attack, or at least fall and break a hip at any moment.

For centuries, the span of working years for a person’s life was 20, 25, maybe 30 years. People just didn’t last that long. There was a natural rhythm to life with predictable shared seasons that everyone went through. Growing into an adult, working till your late 50s or early 60s, and then either coasting a little or just dying off. There are always exceptions to this cycle, but as we all live longer, the question that isn’t discussed enough is: what does one do with this new found season at the end of our lives? There are a lot of lost people wandering around out there.

This rambling blog is a letter to a very specific crowd, but even if you aren’t part of this crowd, I can guarantee you know someone who is. In the last few years, I seem to be bumping up against a large group of men in their fifties, who’ve been involved in ministry most of their lives, who are lost in ministry purgatory. They are stuck in a weird no man’s land. Much too young to be considered an elder statesman, but too old to pull off skinny jeans, worship leader cool. Think of it as being a middle-aged junior higher, caught between two worlds and awkwardly stumbling along waiting for something to happen. Many middle-aged ministers are not even aware that they are stuck.

Whenever I comment that we all know somebody still in the pulpit who should have stepped down ten years ago, the reaction is always a knowing smirk. One, two, or three pastors always come to mind. It can be incredibly challenging to maintain enthusiasm and passion after fifteen or twenty years. At some point, for most men, the shift is subtle, slow, and dangerous. If we’re not careful, ministry can slide from a passion and the call from God, into just a job where we’re going through the motions. We suffer, the people in our ministry suffer, and no one is happy in the situation.

In the last year, I’ve had three different pastors, all in their fifties, come to spend time at our ministry for short sabbaticals. I’ve talked to many more. The patterns are all the same. A lot of life left but not sure where they are going and what they are going to be doing. They might be comfortable in their ministries, but are we meant to be just “comfortable?” Some know they are going through the motions, their church knows that they are just going through the motions, but nobody is brave enough to change. Ministry purgatory. Coasting along, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

If you’re a little uncomfortable reading this, if this rambling blog is describing you, please know you are not alone. Please find someone you trust that you can talk to, and who will be honest with you. Along with seeking counsel, I don’t have any magic answer, but I do have one word of advice: flip the table.

If what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore, stop doing it. This can be a hard concept for some people to get. We won’t experience change doing the same things, in the same way, in the same place. If we don’t like the way the table is set, we can move a few things around, but it really won’t change anything meaningful. Sometimes we need to flip the table over, let things fly, and start over.

I know many men who have left full-time ministry, who have found real peace, and a more significant ministry, in other professions. One good friend says he’s better now that he is no longer a “professional Christian,” he prefers the amateur status. I know insurance salesmen, electricians, etc. who used to be pastors but are now in another season, ministering more now than when they did it as their profession. If we’re serving for the right reasons, we should know that the most important place to be is in God’s will. The only title that matters is Child of God.

One other suggestion: Pray about where you should be headed but do it from a different place. This is one of the many reasons short-term missions are so important. Missions are needed for the people going. Sometimes we need to get out of the space where we’re comfortable and figuratively (or literally) travel to the mountain top to hear from God. Sometimes we need to visit other ministries, missionaries, or churches to find our passion again, or find a new passion. By traveling to new places and connecting with people in new ways it can give us a new perspective. Things look different from the mountain top; we can see more, we can see the bigger picture.

People say, “Write what you know.” This week’s blog describes me. Personally, although I’m still assisting at the orphanage, I’ve found new passions to feed my soul. I’m still stumbling along, but by finding new areas to serve, and handing off most of my old responsibilities, I’m slowly moving out of purgatory into the light. I’m also encouraging the next generation to shine.

If you see yourself in anything you’ve just read, please seek counsel. If you can’t find anyone better, e-mail me, I don’t have any answers, but I can listen.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.

A Fear Factor

pexels-photo-471470

“Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to respond to this question over the last 20 years. I honestly believe this is more of a statement on the church in America today than any perceived danger in Mexico.

What keeps us up at night worrying seldom happens. In 2016 there were a total of 4 deaths by shark attack, 67 people died from taking selfies. If you ask a cross-section of people, fear of sharks would probably rate higher than fear of smartphones. Way too many people live lives wrapped in fear of things that don’t happen or don’t matter. American culture feeds and encourages fear: fear of the “other” political party, of terrorism, of people from different countries or cultures. Fear has become the new American way.

A few years ago, I got a phone call from a concerned father who was looking at sending his daughter with their church missions team to serve with our orphanage in Mexico. After talking to him for a while, he asked me straight out, “Can you 100% guarantee the safety of my daughter?” I think I surprised him with my answer: “Absolutely not.” I asked him if he could 100% guarantee the safety of his daughter when she was driving to school, out shopping, or even in their home. There are almost no 100% guarantees in this life other than the fact that we will all eventually die. If we lived our lives looking for 100% guarantees, we would never do anything, that’s not why we’re on this earth.

At what point did the church collectively decide that we need complete security at all times? Why are we so afraid? Jesus never taught that we should only go and share the gospel if our safety could be guaranteed, that we should only help others if there is zero risk involved. I’m not saying we should take unnecessary chances, but what should we be willing to risk to share the Gospel?

“Fear not” comes up a lot in the bible, “You need to avoid risk” not so much. If we believe we have an all-powerful, loving Father in heaven who only wants what’s best for us, why are we so afraid? If we believe that God can use ALL things for our good and the good of His kingdom, why can’t we rest in that? The Apostle Paul did some of his best work sitting in prison. Paul was completely convinced this was just a temp job; he was on his way to heaven. Paul doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who was afraid of what might happen. The world needs more Pauls.

A good friend of mine has been a missionary in a Muslim country for a few years. (for his safety I can’t share his name or what country). This guy is fearless. Recently he sent me an e-mail asking an IT question, not a big deal. He went on to share about the struggles they were having going to print with a new bible recently translated into a dialect for that area. One print shop was burned down, one printer who wanted to help was sent to prison, my friend’s family was threatened, and he was arrested and held for several days. Yikes. I would have hit the road long before this. Rather than running, giving up, or even complaining, he was rejoicing. Through the entire E-mail, you could feel the joy he was experiencing; he had found the “joy in all things” that Paul wrote about while in prison.

In 2014 my wife and I were scheduled to travel with the team of about 20 to Ghana in West Africa. We had our tickets, we had our visas, and about 30 days before we were scheduled to leave the Ebola outbreak hit West Africa. You couldn’t pick up a paper, turn on the radio, or watch the news without being told how dangerous Ebola was and how we were all going to die. Not the best time to travel to West Africa. Over the course of a few weeks, most of the team dropped out and, to be honest, we thought about it. We made a few calls to people on the ground to get accurate information and had some LONG talks. Any sane person would have canceled. (we’ve never been grouped in with sane people). We decided to go. The team was just five people, and EVERYONE said we were crazy. We went, had an incredible trip, and I believe we had a real impact at the orphanage where we were serving. West Africa is a BIG place, where we were serving we were over 1000 miles from the nearest Ebola case. At no time were we in any danger other than malaria and the other normal issue from that area.

In looking back at our trip to Ghana, I’m flooded with emotions. One of the emotions I have is regret for the many people who, out of an abundance of caution, chose not to go. They missed out on a life-changing experience. They missed out on the chance to share with others and connect with believers on the other side of the world. The enemy, once again used fear to stop ministry from taking place. How many people weren’t reached? How many lives weren’t changed by this incredible experience? The people who chose to stay back had the perception of safety, but they missed a life-altering experience.

Take a chance. Risk something. Go drill a well in Kenya, go build a house in Baja, go serve (or start) a prison ministry. Step out and see how God might use you or might use the new challenges to change you. Of the people I hang out within the missions field, I never hear them talk about the regret of taking a chance. What I see and hear are people who glow, glow with a joy that few people experience in this life. These are people who have taken and continue to take chances for God. They are not afraid of risk, they embrace it, they have found joy. The only fear we should accept in our lives is the fear of NOT doing what God is calling us to. We should be deathly afraid of wasting our time here on this earth living a mundane, “safe” existence.

To answer the question about Mexico that I started out with: Yes, Mexico CAN be dangerous in certain areas, most of it is really safe, but watch out for those selfies.

Ending Well

lani.jpgAlmost every time I speak in public, I open up by yelling at the group, “You are all going to die!” It frequently gets a nervous laugh or two and then I go on to explain that we are only on this earth a short time, it is so essential to use our time as the precious commodity that it is. Do not waste a moment. The following is the story of a man who used his last few years well.

Jack was a middle-aged man, raising two young children, who had recently moved to a smallish town in Iowa. He had newly been diagnosed with cancer but had not shared his medical condition with anybody in his new community. He was just focusing on his family and beginning the process of diagnosis and treatment.

One day, his next-door neighbor invited him to go on a short-term mission trip to serve at an orphanage in Mexico. The plan was also to help build a home for a needy family. He was not a member of the church, and his first response was, “Well, I don’t play the guitar or anything, but I am good with a hammer.” He was told he would fit in fine. In spite of everything he was going through, he decided to take a chance and tag along with the group. It was a week that would transform his next few years.

As Jack got on the plane with sixty people that he barely knew, all wearing matching t-shirts, he was not sure what to expect. They traveled about two hours south of San Diego to a small town in Mexico where they would be working. The group set up camp and got started with the construction. The team met the family they were serving, and as the team worked, they experienced the joy and bonding that only comes from serving with others in new and challenging circumstances. Jack spent the first few days quietly working alongside his newfound friends.

Midway through the week, during the evening bonfire, Jack decided to take a chance and share of his recent life struggles and his battle with cancer. The response was powerful. This group of people that he had just recently joined came up around him in every sense of the word. The team spent a great deal of time in prayer, seeking miraculous healing. We’ve all heard the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” There is something about serving alongside others under challenging circumstances that broadens our faith. Serving in missions forges deep relationships that are almost impossible to find unless we are out of our comfort zone.

Over the next few years, while cancer slowly took its toll, Jack continued to return to Baja every time the church came down. Like so many other people, these short-term mission trips became the focal point of his year, a time of joy among struggles, and transformed his life. His social media feed was filled with stories and photos of his time spent serving in Mexico. As Jack’s faith continued to grow stronger, he heard a message from God: “Builder.” This helped Jack understand how his situation was being used for the kingdom.

Above the orphanage in Baja where Jack served is a large, very distinct cross. It rises powerfully above a large hill and can be seen from all over the valley. This cross has been the sight of many marriage proposals, recommitments of faith, and other life-changing moments over the years. Jack ultimately had a drawing of the cross tattooed on his arm using the cross as the letter “T” for the word” triumph.” These trips had marked his life in every way possible.

triumph.jpg

As Jack’s life was winding down, one of the leaders came to the hospital in a nearby city to be there for him. As they talked, a nurse walked in that had been on one of these trips before Jack started, and knew all about it. Out of the hundreds of hospital staff who could have walked through the door, this nurse could understand Jack’s experience of faith through missions. They were able to excitedly share of their common experiences in that small town in Mexico.

One of his last requests to the mission leader was, “Make sure when my son is old enough, that he gets to Mexico. I want him to see the place that changed my life.” His other request is that his ashes be spread at the base of the cross overlooking the orphanage and the homes he helped build.

I share this story as an encouragement, an encouragement to end your life well. Jack’s story is one of the thousands of lives that are changed through short term missions and service trips every year. Most people live their lives without thinking too much about the ever approaching end; they make plans to do something “next year” until there are no more years left. Please use the weeks and years you have left in a way that matters. Don’t waste a day.

Jack passed away on May 3rd, 2019, surrounded by family. He is no longer battling cancer or the fights of this earth. He is now dancing in heaven. Close to five hundred people showed up at his memorial on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in Iowa. His ashes will be spread at the orphanage cross, as he requested.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.

No Government Funding

pexels-photo-1457684Most Americans in the US have never visited an orphanage. People draw what they know about orphanages from movies, second-hand stories, and a mix of random information. Although the US had hundreds of faith-based orphanages just a generation ago, for the most part, they have been replaced by government-funded foster care. (that’s a rant for another blog). Because the information is loose at best, there are a lot of misconceptions about what it takes to run an orphanage. Because the government funds foster care in the US, most people are surprised to learn that we get no funding from the Mexican government to run our home. Nope, not one peso.

The main reason the government of Mexico doesn’t fund orphanages is that there just isn’t any money. In any developing country, social services are the last thing to be funded. There need to be priorities, and police, fire, schools, roads, etc. always come first. If there is any money left, social service programs begin to be funded. This is true around the world. If the economy shrinks, social programs are the first to be cut. It’s just the way it works. No government funding might not be a bad thing; the church needs to do more, and not depend on the government.

More and more, people tend to look to the government to solve the problems of society. “There needs to be a law.” “Why isn’t there a program?” etc. Because there are children in need, it’s just assumed that it’s the government’s responsibility to step in and help. The problem is, as believers, this idea allows us to wash our hands of a great deal of responsibility. The idea of relinquishing our responsibility to the government is also unbiblical.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.. Mark 12:17

Jesus was very clear; we have a responsibility to “Give back to Caesar.” We never like it, but we need to pay our taxes. It’s part of being a member of society. But if you look at the last part of Mark 12:17, it’s clear that we also have a responsibly to give to the things of God. The two are mentioned as separate acts: Give to the government, give to the things of God.

The idea of our faith being played out through service and giving to others flows through the entire new testament. Our salvation is not tied to this service, but service is tied to living out our faith and representing Christ well. Whether it’s Jesus instructing the rich young ruler to sell what he has and give to the poor, or the story of the good Samaritan, service is a reoccurring theme. Stories of people living out their faith through service and generosity to others are richly woven into many of Christ’s teachings. James takes it a step further by teaching that true religion is serving widows and orphans. There is not a single verse about the government helping widows and orphans.

The call to help others in the Gospel is not just there because needy people are all around us. God does nothing without multiple hidden levels of blessings for those who will walk in His instructions. Yes, people need help, but more importantly, we need to help others for our own good. Service is richly and profoundly fulfilling and healing for us as followers of Christ. It is impossible to take on the image of Christ, without becoming a servant in every area of our lives. It’s true believers, the people who understand how rich the grace of God is, who have a desire to care for others welling up from within. We help not because we are supposed to, but because we can not do otherwise.

By assuming that the government can or should take care of the needs around us, we are giving up on the incredible privilege and opportunity to interact with, and serve those around us. It’s cliché among those who host short-term mission teams, to hear the phrase “I am leaving with so much more than I came with.” The paradox is consistent with all those who serve others, by stepping out and serving those around us, God uses our acts of generosity and service to bless and heal us. Whatever our motivations, we receive blessings by giving out to others.

Jesus was many things; high on that list is a perfect, humble, servant. He was the one who did the foot washing; He did not assume others would do the job. This is our example.

You give so much to the government already, don’t give away the joy of serving others.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

What Are Your Motivations?

pexels-photo-1081223I tend to be more of a cynic than I probably should be, but I believe there is no such thing as genuinely pure motives. We are all flawed and imperfect people. These flaws get blended and twisted into any decisions or actions we take. It’s hard to be self-aware when it comes to our motivations, but it’s essential to try and be honest with ourselves about it. I know one gentleman who likes to help needy organizations financially and has the deep pockets to do this. He’s unambiguous that his motivation is all about the photo op, he wants to look good to those around him, and on social media. At least he’s honest about it. (He is not one of our donors.)

If you do a quick google search on motivations, you come up with a wide range of articles with very similar threads. People are listing “The four motivations,” “The ten motivations,” etc. The examples of motivations given are frequently: money, lust, power, fear, popularity, guilt, altruism, generosity, pride, etc.

Almost everyone who participates in short-term missions wants to help, but WHY do they want to help. I once straight up asked a teenage girl who happened to stop by my office why she came on the trip. “My mom forced me to.” I was a little surprised, but I do appreciate honesty. (Fear of mom was the motivation.)

In helping to run a large(ish) non-profit with a range of donors and visiting groups, our team meets a substantial range of individuals. When we meet with group leaders, we hear a lot of the same phrases. “We’re just here to serve.” “What works best for you.” etc. but usually within a few minutes of listening or watching we can begin to see their underlying priorities and motives. Many groups come in with their agenda well before meeting with us or finding out what the real needs are. They have an agenda, and they are NOT going to be moved.

Some group leaders are all about having their team experience a great week. If while having a great week they happen to serve the children in our care, great, but it’s clearly not their priority. They show this by not asking questions, by not thinking about how their activities impact our home, by planning their week around themselves. “I know your kids have homework, but my team REALLY wants to do a craft and VBS with your kids between 2 pm and 4 pm so we can go into town later.” “We know it’s cold outside, and some of your kids are sick, but we really want to push through with the water games we had planned.”

It is very common to have a group, or many individuals in the group, be more focused on the perfect photo op. I’ve seen people pick up a shovel or wheel barrow just to take a photo and then walk away. I’m not exactly saying mission photos get staged all the time but…photos get staged all the time. If you want to see your team’s real motivation, ask them to put their phones away for a few days and don’t take pictures. Rebellion is the usual response. Why do any of us post things online? Is it about encouraging others, or about competing with others to look like we have the perfect life?

Some groups come in assuming they know better than our team how things should be run. They are here to “save us from ourselves.” (pride) I’m aware we have a LOT of room for improvement, and we do learn from others all the time. But when someone comes in less to help, and more to judge or criticize what we do, it gets old fast. We appreciate input or questions but we live with the children in our care, we live in our community, we understand the culture, we have an intimate knowledge of the needs and challenges that go on every day.

We do appreciate the short-term mission teams. Most groups are a huge blessing, and we could use some more! This rambling blog on motivations has the goal of causing self-reflection. Why do we do what we do? This question applies to short-term missions, as well as every other area of our lives. Our motivations have a dramatic impact on every relationship in our lives. It is the lens we use to view and interact with our world.

Motivation can be boiled down to just one question: Who am I serving? Am I serving myself, or am I serving God? If we’re honest with ourselves, this is not an easy question to answer. For almost everyone, it can be a sliding scale. We (I hope) are all trying to serve our Lord more each day, but that gets blended into so many otherworldly motivations. Approval of others, comfort, jealousy, pride, greed, etc. always creep in. I know I question or doubt my true motives all the time.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Phil 3:8

The paradox is, the purer our motivation, the greater blessing we ultimately receive. The more we try to follow in the pure example of service that Jesus gives, the more our emotional needs are met. As we grow closer to Christ, the worldly motivations fade away. Money, pride, power, etc. really do become worthless compared to the things of God. This is a worthy motivation.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

I Hate “The Poor”

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 11.26.12 AMOK, that was a pretty obvious click-bait title, but the idea still holds. I have nothing against people of lesser means (I’m one of them), what this blog is about is the title or identification of “poor people” that the bulk of the world might fall into. By the very act of referring to a group or nationality as “the poor” we, at some level, diminish their importance and make a quick judgment about them. It’s a profoundly demeaning term. “The poor” equals lesser, not as good, somehow less deserving, of lower value. Most people are in denial about this attitude, but the unspoken implications of the term “the poor” are there most of the time. Society, and sadly, the church, frequently uses terms that bulk people together that shouts, “Less important than us.” “The homeless,” “the migrants,” etc. give the subtle yet clear implication of class distinction.

The first thing many people do when they meet someone is ask, “What do you do?” Most people are naturally inclined to categorize people into groups. The simplest of these categories are richer and poorer, and by asking someone what they do for a living, we’re ready to find out what class they belong to. We don’t want to admit it, but the richer are generally considered brighter or better. Money is how most people keep score, and what we “do” usually sets that score. Who has the bigger house, the cooler car, etc. No one likes to think they judge others on this scale, but in reality, almost everyone does. Once we bulk any group of people into a simple category, it’s just too easy to see them as different, lesser individuals.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:2-4

Levels in society isn’t a new idea; class distinctions have been around for thousands of years. Do we still have a class system but are in denial about it? If we’re honest with ourselves: Yup, most of the time. The upper income of society looks down on everyone else, and the lower income population generally has contempt for most wealthier people (although they would like to be one someday)

The implication of class titles or distinctions, even if they are only implied, has a profound impact on short-term missions, long-term missions, and ministry in general.

When a church or missions team starts out with the idea or statement that they want to go and “help the poor,” it can set the stage for some unhealthy, one-directional relationships. There is an automatic implication that because the group has resources, they are better than the group they are going to serve. It would never be said out loud, but there is the implication that the group with the money is better, brighter, somehow has more of God’s favor. Contempt is not a good place to start to build a relationship, and ministry is ALL about relationships.

The best way to go into a relationship is on equal footing, to have mutual respect for each other. The world says that if we have more stuff, we must be better. The critical point is, what the world says doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. God sees all of us as equal; He is not impressed by the same scorecard that we use. He uses a very different scorecard.

The right attitude when going into short-term missions is not just “What can we give these people?”, the question should be “How can we work alongside these people to further the Kingdom?” The idea of working together shows mutual respect, a recognizing that we are all on equal footing working together for the same goal.

It’s critical to understand and embrace the fact that in the eyes of God, without Him, we are all impoverished. If we have a few more dollars in our bank account, it means nothing. This is easy to say, but to truly embrace the idea that money doesn’t matter is very rare. Even from the other side, when “wealthy Americans” show up in the mission field people have a different reaction, more attention is given, attitudes change.

I was once in a meeting in northern Malawi, in an area that does not see very many Americans. Just the idea that I had the means to travel to this area put me in a different economic position. I was with several very respected local leaders and just wanted to listen to what they had to say. When the meeting came around to me, they didn’t use my name, the name of my organization, or any term that I expected. It was grandly announced that “The white man will now speak.” The meeting went silent waiting for some deep wisdom just because I was from a wealthy country. It was never discussed, but just me being American brought a particular unwanted class distinction. Is was awkward at many levels.

We really are all the same. Some people might have a few more dollars, but compared to the riches of our Heavenly Father, we are all poor. The dollars we do have are really His anyway. It is in embracing our own poverty that we can inherit the incredible grace and riches that our Father wants us to have. Maybe we should all embrace being “the poor.”

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.