Two Sides of a Coin

I am still grabbed by a story I heard while at ECFC earlier this month.

I went to find one of my heroes and former pastors, Ted Olbrich, who now serves as the foursquare missionary to Cambodia. I wanted to tell him how I recently read Leading Across Cultures by James R. Plueddemann. In this book, the former director of SIM (Serving in Missions formerly Sudan Interior Mission) and professor at Trinity’s Intercultural program stated that he finds farmers make the best missionaries. Plueddemann brought out this claim after talking about the difficult balance missionaries have to juggle between planning and preparation against waiting and ambiguity. Westerners love to think they can manipulate outcomes with excellent planning and forethought. Many in the rest of the world think we are foolish in trying to predict the future. Probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It is always there somewhere in the middle isn’t it. Right there where we left it before taking sides on an argument.

As Westerners, we love to plan and manipulate outcomes. However, much of the rest of the world lives comfortably in ambiguity with an understanding that we cannot predict the future. Plueddemann noted how farmers live in that balance of planning for the harvest while preparing for adjustments, unexpected and big changes that come to a crop.

My former pastor grew up on the farm. Maybe this is why he thrives in a country like Cambodia as the Foursquare church in that nation continues to be the world’s fastest growing church. The hindrances, corruption, and spiritual warfare that they navigate keep one nimble on that balance beam of strategy and sensitivity to the Spirit.

Here’s the story:

When I talked to Ted about this observation by a former mission’s executive, he said, It’s like that old story…let me say, he is chalk full of those old stories. He has more metaphors than a lady at the Kentucky Derby has hats.

His old story this time talked about the man from the East and the Man from the West who thought they saw a side of a coin. They argued over which side of the coin was more correct. However, as they got closer and closer they realized that was not a coin after all. In fact, as they came right up to it, they saw that it was in fact a ball. The reality Ted told me was that we have to have an integrated view of being spirit led and having strategy. Both have their place. We just need to know when to use which.

Do you find yourself wanting to map out the future or take it as it comes?

Seing with Fresh Eyes

Last week, three travel wearied children and their parents stepped off of a plane in Bangkok beginning a new journey as missionaries in Bangkok, Thailand. For our part, we get the privilege of helping them get settled as they learn the language and culture in seeing God’s kingdom expand in this country.

With good things like new cool friends always come unintended benefits.

One such benefit for us comes as we see Thailand afresh through new eyes. So often, we grow accustomed to the ways of Thailand and the Thai people that we miss subtle nuances that have changed over the five plus years we have lived and served in Bangkok. We get to see this place once again through a new lens.

I love all the fresh excitement bubbling over in their kids even as they grapple with living in a new place where few people speak English. Things that have become commonplace to us, jump out to the newest members on our team as they see a band clump lying tossed in a field. I didn’t even remember banana trees grew in this concrete jungle known as the city of angels, the literal meaning of Thailand’s capital.

The new experiences and observations bring memories flooding back to us of our first days in a new country. Memories of pure joy, and sometimes thoughts of what were we thinking coming to live in such a strange place. Now this strangeness seems so normal. Yeah, normal to ride a motorcycle taxi sidesaddle with a baby strapped to your back as my wife recently tweeted. Oh yes, normal eat tasty food off of the street vendors carts. We just don’t ask how long the meat has been outside. Yep, this milk tastes normal. We forget how it took us over a year to be able to drink it plain.

As we are reminded of our initial bumps on the road and uncomfortabilities with the new life we took on, we have had a chance to reflect and see how we processed change and transition. I remember long nights lying awake in bed debriefing with my wife about observations and experiences. I remember asking our friends and other missionaries to describe and articulate what was happening around us. Another tool that helped us assimilate came in the form of a super friendly older man in the church who also taught in the school. He loved sharing his joy and passion for his homeland with all of the foreign workers that came to Thailand. He helped us take excursions around Bangkok and the surrounding area to see the traditional and ancient sides of Thai culture. We rode elephants, ate in restaurants built from bamboo on stilts over the Gulf of Bangkok, shopped in the famous floating market, visited Tigers, and a host of other activities. We fed off of his joy in seeing us soak in the beauty that is Thailand. Our friend, no adopted elderly uncle, loved prompting us to take pictures. I think he was almost as excited as we were to catch a glimpse of the monitor lizard on the side of the river bank. No, maybe he was more excited when he saw our love for his country grow.

Even as we reflect on our initial impressions of Thailand, we also see anew how culture continues to shift in Bangkok. This city is in hyper flux as it bounces from one fad to another led through such mediums as Youtube and Facebook. Bangkok recently became the world’s No. 1 city for Facebook with over 8 million users. But other things have changed as girls dress far more risqué than five years ago. Couples might be seen holding hands in public when that was a big taboo, even five years ago. Meanwhile the foundation of Thailand’s political stability continues to be fluid.

As we come along side our new teammates, we get an added benefit of reflecting on our own understandings of Thailand. I always hope to be a person that reflects and learns from my experiences. It is good to have a new perspective to Thailand again.

I must say, we love this place and the sweet people here.

Connecting Through English

Have you ever heard this joke? “What language will be spoken in heaven?” “English, because Americans can’t learn another language.” Without taking offense as a family who has learned Thai…sometimes English speakers get a bad reputation. I want to offer another perspective after ECFC.

In Sri Lanka, dozens of nations gathered together for prayer and encouragement as the church. These nations gathered under the banner of Foursquare, connecting people from this nation and that throughout the Asia pacific.

English of all things binds these nations together. For some English is the national language. However, nations that have a low, low English proficiency have joined together for these meetings and worship sessions as well. Here English opens the door to networking like never before in history, aside from the Greek speaking world of Jesus’ time. I wonder how many have calculated the affect of English and the spread of the gospel has been. Hmmm, thoughts for another day.

As we mingled with leaders from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, and many other parts of the Asia pacific world, we saw English as the bridge. I am fascinated how much English has penetrated this half of the globe while everyone talks of it’s soon demise.

One presenter spoke in Chinese having her presentation translated into English. At the same time I could hear the soft hum of headsets all around the room translating the message into their native language. However, English allowed the connection. In this unprecedented era of partnership in the global mission, I am interested to watch as the Westerners continue to move from parenting the mission to partnering with the mission. Will English vanish from the center of these meetings or continue to play a pivotal role?

At the same time as communication and information made its way through the conduits of English, worship was another matter.

The conference’s worship leaders led us in English songs, but in some commonly translated songs I heard a brief foretaste of Revelations 7:9-11 being fulfilled. I could hear Thai, English, Singhalese and other languages sung out in unison as we all worshipped the lamb that was slain. What a beautiful day that will be when God draws all nations before him in worship. What a glorious sound that will be before his throne.

What a Leader Looks Like

I walked away from lunch with a great picture of what leadership can look like. These conversations often produce gold on the side with little unexpected tangents as we sit and talk with great friends gathered in Sri Lanka for an international meeting with the foursquare leaders in Asia last week.

These leaders gathered for the ECFC conference, that is the Eastern Council of Foursquare Churches. These meetings are so colorful, passionate and spirit empowered as they gather every other year for prayer and enrichment. It was great to be at the ECFC conference again. Some of my heroes in the faith lead churches in these 30 nations represented in this meeting from Asia and the South Pacific. This wonderful collage of all these nations gathered together and seeing good friends again.

One of these good friends also happens to be one of my favorite mentors who I happened to catch for lunch. We sat down and discussed missiology, ministry and how we were doing. In this conversation, my mentor told me how that night’s speaker explained leadership. Rather than doing what us Americans often do wrong in implementing American leadership that follows the CEO model and looks very foreign in most of the world, to look at leadership differently. He used the picture of a father.

Leading like a father transcends culture, he explained. As he continued, he said that a leader does not have to be old or in certain position as long as he leads like a father or with the heart of a father. All peoples can catch that kind of leadership and be willing to go with that.

Truly, I can say in a culture like Thailand, people see their leaders like a father. If someone is having a difficulty or hardship, the leader goes out of his way to help these people. The leader sacrifices and leads out of relationship in such a deeper way than can easily be sensed at first.

I wonder how much more impact can be made worldwide when we see leadership through the lens of a father, a good father who wants to see the best in his children.

Do you have any word pictures that help you see leadership that transcends context or circumstances of an organization or group?