Use Your Skills in Missions!

Hey everyone,

Last year while at a conference they shot an interview with me and now here it is! In a video! I talk a bit about my favourite story I’ve covered in Africa and why I love my job so much.

Check it out for yourself.

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Available & Willing

To be honest, the term ‘missionary’ always TERRIFIED me (note the all caps, I’m not kidding).

Missionaries were the cream of the crop on my mind. Holding well-worn Bibles crammed with bookmarks and highlighted passages, they knew the Bible backwards and forwards, had half of it memorized and a verse for every occasion. Learning the local language proved to be no feat; the average missionary could become fluent within a month. An off week was one where no one became a Christian through their efforts. They didn’t struggle, they had life figured out. They were selfless people, willing to live anywhere and go to extraordinary measures to show God’s love to others. To me, being a missionary was synonymous with being perfect.

And because missionaries were perfect, I thought I could never be one. Even after completing missions training and a two-month outreach I knew I wasn’t missionary material. Foreign words got stuck and mixed up in my throat and even the ones that made it out of my mouth were garbled, incoherent and met with blank stares. I depended on Google too much to inform me where that one verse that talks about that one guy was and my eyes got that deer-in-the-headlight look when asked to preach. Nope, definitely not missionary material.

Then God called me to join OM and move to Africa. Did that mean I was a missionary? Well, if it did, I never owned up to it. I didn’t introduce myself as a missionary. I skirted around the edges saying things like “I work for a missions organization,” or “I’m a photojournalist with an NGO.” Anything but the ‘M’ word.

It was too much pressure to call myself a missionary. I was afraid that if I did people would expect more of me; that God would expect more of me.

And that my friends, is absolutely RIDICULOUS (note the all caps, I’m not kidding).

Firstly, I’ll let you in on a little secret: missionaries are regular people. 

Crazy eh? Missionaries come in all shapes, sizes, ages, nationalities, personalities, occupations and walks of life. They aren’t sitting high up on a pedestal, but walk the same dusty roads as everyone else. They have hard times and break down; being a missionary doesn’t exempt them from the pain and hardships of the world. They may experience different problems than their family and friends, but they still have problems. Missionaries are regular people.

Secondly, God expects me to respond to His calling on my life. Period. Nothing less. Whether that is living in a mud hut or a three-bedroom house I don’t believe His standards for me differ depending where I live or what job I have. No matter where I am, or what I am doing, He expects me to act as His child. The characteristics of a ‘good missionary’ are the same characteristics all Christians should exemplify. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Being a missionary doesn’t mean the list of characteristics grows longer, nor does not being a missionary make any of the traits optional.

So what does it take to be a missionary if not perfection?

I think it’s willingness.

“I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China… I don’t know who it was… It must have been a man… a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing… and God looked down… and saw Gladys Aylward… And God said – ‘Well, she’s willing.’” – Gladys Aylward a British missionary who served in China in the mid 1900’s.

[ Willingness ] : the quality or state of being prepared to do something; readiness

Willingness to try new things. To be flexible. To be open. To learn. To teach. To listen. To speak. To go. To stay. To follow Christ even when the end goal is obscured. Willingness to act as God directs, no matter the circumstances.

“God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” If God wants you to do it, He’ll make a way. It’s not about your ability, but rather your availability.

Think Moses: just your average shepherd who doesn’t like public speaking. God called, God equipped and Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Though in the beginning Moses tried to beg off and made excuses (it always amazed me that Moses had the audacity to make excuses to God until I realized I do it all.the.time), he did what the Lord commanded of him. He became a leader. He went to pharaoh. He parted the red sea for crying out loud! After some self-doubt and grumbling (which I am sure we can all relate to), Moses was willing to move at the Lord directed.

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That’s what it takes. Willingness. “Here I am. Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8

I’m in my third year overseas now. I still use Google to help me find verses but it’s getting easier and easier to remember references. I still stumble over foreign words but I keep trying and push through with a smile on my face. I still panic when asked to give a sermon but then I pray and seek God for inspiration. I’m here and I’m willing.

Occasionally the term ‘missionary’ still gives me a scare, but only when I tack on my own pre-conceived notions and impossibly high expectations.

In its simplest form I think missions is about loving those around you. Taking the love that God gives you and sharing it with others. His love is a bottomless ocean; it will never run dry and neither will those who welcome it.

Don’t be frightened by the terms and definitions. Don’t make standards that set you up for failure. Just be available to go where God calls; be willing to do what God asks.

“Some call it mission work. It can also be called loving others.”

When smiling feels more like a grimace

Smile, wave. Smile, wave.

Sometimes – just to mix it up – I threw in a thumbs up. But that small variation in the otherwise monotonous motions of driving hour after hour through Malawi did little to stanch the flow of disgruntlement seeping into me.

_MG_5429 copyThe smiles started to feel like grimaces.

It’s not like I don’t like people, but I myself felt less like a person and more like an attraction. Couldn’t I just take a break?

So I did. I looked straight ahead for a while. I put on big sunglasses and let the other people in the car take over, two passengers waving per car exceeds the requirements right? Plus, while I was less than thrilled to take up the task, they were happy to do it!

Their enthusiasm must be a side affect of being new to Africa, I mused to myself. Me, on the other hand, with my infinite knowledge and wisdom accumulated over the last two-and-a-half years on the continent, scorned their friendly demeanours.

They’re just waving at you because you’re white, said the part of me tired of being a foreigner and longing to pass by unnoticed.

_MG_3729 copyIt was day three, hour five of driving at the light-speed of 20 kilometres an hour that the Lord broke through the oh-woe-is-me wall I had constructed.

Did it matter why the kids chased the car laughing and jostling each other for position?

Did it matter why people ran closer to the road to get in the range of a thumbs up?

Did it matter why everyone called out greetings as we drove by?

What mattered were the smiles.

What mattered was the excitement on their faces when I smiled back.

What mattered were the giggles that erupted when I greeted them in their own language.

What else could matter?

How could I begrudge someone a smile? Why was I not walk around smiling 24/7?

What if there was a whole carload of people with my attitude cruising down the backroads staring straight ahead, ignoring the greetings and waves accosting the vehicle from all sides? Pulling into the destined village they step out into a sea of people that seem to have materialized from nowhere, but have actually been the same people they’ve passed over the last few kilometres. The newcomers begin to speak on the love of Jesus…the love that all followers of Christ should exemplify…the love…that they show?

If I were one of those villagers, I would not welcome me. If they didn’t want to acknowledge me before, why should I be friendly to them now? And even if I did stick around to listen, I would lose interest pretty fast upon realization that their words and actions didn’t match up.

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As a Christian I am are an ambassador of Christ. All day, everyday. And if I’m going to talk the talk, I better be able to walk the walk.

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” – Proverbs 27:19

I took another drive the other day (albeit a lot shorter), and the greetings never got old. I even started initiating the greetings: smiling at those who looked unsure, waving at those who stood with hands by their sides. Their response was instant: joy, pure and simple. And their joy became my joy.

Never did anyone turn away, never did anyone pretend they hadn’t seen me. They always responded, and they always chose to respond with joy.

Smiling when out for a drive doesn’t feel like a grimace anymore.

Aching cheeks and a mouthful of dust from the open window just mean I’ve chosen to respond with joy.

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Bom dia

Hey everyone!

It’s been a busy few weeks with little time for posting. I was in Malawi for about a month and a half running like a chicken with my head cut off gathering stories, taking photos and taking up a few extra projects. It was worth it though. I love Malawi – the team, the ministries, the people, everything.

So where am I now? I’m in Mozambique! (‘Bom dia’ is a greeting in Portuguese, the main language here). I’ll be here for two more weeks visiting the team and getting to know the different ministries, as well as visiting an outreach for five days starting Sunday. It’s been a wet start to my time here, but I’m embracing the chance to wear all my warm clothing for a change :)

Check out some of the writing I’ve been doing lately by clicking on the links…

Malawi

Ride 2 Transform Malawi

(the cycling trip I was media for)

Praying for the prisoners

(“I started prison ministry after I was arrested…” if that doesn’t catch your attention I don’t know what will!)

Water by the church

(it’s amazing how God works…)

Zambia

Learning to walk with the Lord

(When I first met Yande she crawled around, now…)

Taking the initiative 

(Business training to empower women)

Bringing home the bacon

(the Lake T team started a pig farm! You should hear them squeal!)

Hope on the streets for children

(Street kids ministry in Kabwe)

It’s harvest time

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The chatter and laughter of people working in the fields floats on the breeze: it’s harvest time in Malawi.

01They’re collecting rice. Picking the stalks and then beating them against the ground to dislodge the grains of rice; sifting through what has fallen off to remove the dust and bits of debris.

They smile and laugh, calling for me to take photos as they work, and then beaming when I turn the camera around to show them the picture.

 

The excitement and merriment aside, I noticed an underlying urgency in their actions. Though every harvest is an important one, this one is even more so. The crops last year were poor and the rains sparse. Tales of thieves coming in the night to harvest the fields under the shroud of darkness are common; some farmers have taken to sleeping in their fields to guard the grain. The crops determine how easy, or hard, the next year will be for them.

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Photographically I found the harvesters to be a captivating subject. I’ve always loved the bright, colourful patterns of the women’s chitenges, and liked the way they contrasted against the crops. Though is was the colour that drew me to the fields, what made me linger was the women themselves. The practiced precision in their deft movements; their hands remembering this task they had done thousands of times before. The strength of those who carried a child on their back and rice in their arms. The joy as they joked and sang with one another. The way they welcomed me into their circle without reservation. The generosity shown by the woman who handed me a bundle of rice when I was leaving.

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They are beautiful these women; from their well worn feet to their calloused hands to their smiling eyes.

They are strong these women; not just physically but from the long hours they work to ensure their families will not go hungry.

I am thankful for the short time I was able to spend with these women, and pray that one day they will know their creator.

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