Waking Up To My Calling

iphone-god-calling

I have told this story over the years in different venues from churches, to chapel at my alma mater to the class I teach at LPC—Multicultural Evangelism. But now, might be the time to share the story here, a little background on where I came from, and how I got to where I am. Oh, and to add in a missing piece to this story that has haunted me for a couple of decades–who was that speaker at camp?

I love sharing the crazy way that God worked with me or in spite of me to get me where he wanted me, the mission field. I still get chills thinking of how incredible God is at getting us to the places he wants us to be. I am blown away when I reflect backwards on the pathway God used to place me in the middle of where he wanted me—his calling.

The story of calling is an interesting thing. We don’t often define calling well, that mysterious thing that grips our heart and compels us onward in God’s mission. Calling is that thing we return to again and again when questions, doubts, and concerns assail us. We come back to a confidence that God has a purpose in what he is doing in and through us. Yep, “Calling” keeps us going.

My calling came to a distinct point of grabbing my heart 20 years ago, the summer before my senior year in high school. And I remember it vividly to this day. Sometimes, there are moments that simply burn themselves into your mind, memory burn. The distant memories surrounding my calling stick with me like it was yesterday.

At 17-years-old, I went to summer camp for the first time with my new church, the Foursquare church in Woodstock, IL.

You might ask, Why did I go? The same reason many teenage boys go to camp, because a cute girl invited me. This was reason enough to approach my football coach and ask out of two-a-day practice ahead of my senior year, ahead of my time to shine as a varsity starter. I gulped, gathered myself, and asked coach if I could get out of practice. It was not his favorite idea of the year, but he relented and allowed me 24 hours.

Yeah buddy!! I was on a solo mission as I drove my beater of a car the three hour drive into the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin to arrive at Spencer Lake Campgrounds. Tired, frazzled, worn out, but excited, I made it to camp. No matter, I had energy reserves ready to kick in. Quickly, I found the kids from my youth group at the line for dinner. That cute girl, however, was strangely difficult to locate. No worries, the dudes were around, and we were able to pass the time by being stupid guys.

Fast forward to the evening service. Worship was awesome. I sang, danced and praised my heart out during a hot August night in 1994. Anticipating a great message for missions.  That is when the disappointment set in.

The speaker was a guy that I had heard the previous Sunday at my church, twice. As I retold this story over the years, beginning with a graduation brunch with the then President of our movement, all I remember is that an old guy was speaking at our camp, an old guy who spoke twice at my church. I had no excitement for what he was going to say. Don’t get me wrong, I like the stories our elders have to share, but I was not looking forward to story time. I wanted passion, fun, and something that connected with where I lived as a teenager.

Now, my tired body, pushed to the limit by football practices, had nothing left. The adrenaline high of seeing my friends, of jumping around in a worship service, of being in the presence of God drained out of me. Quickly, I went from being alert, tuned in, and full of life to a drowsy boy. As soon as the speaker started, I knew he was giving the same message he gave at my church, a good message, a solid message on missions, but the same message. I was ready for something new, but had little ability to stay awake for the same message again.

The next thing I knew, I was jerking my head up, yanking myself awake. I couldn’t sleep through the only night of camp I went to, could I? The answer: Yes. I gave up the battle of trying to stay awake. My head stopped bobbing up and down, stopped pulling back awake, and gave in to the battle of sleep as I folded my arms over my lap and drooped my head down. And I was oblivious to the world around me for I don’t know how long, maybe 45-60 minutes.

When I started coming to, dragging my sleepy head back into the world of the living, I heard the speaker beginning to call people to a response. He was wrapping up his message and concluding it with a call to mission. The speaker was calling people into two categories. One were going to be like ducks and another like beavers. The ducks would be those that would fly, would travel, would brave long distances to take the gospel to other peoples. At the same time, the beavers would stay back home, building, gathering, and compiling resources to support the ducks in mission. Both were needed. We needed those that would go, and those that would send.

But I was still catching up to the story. I wasn’t sure what this related to. In fact, I was still quite groggy and felt super confused. I was not from Oregon and did not know my zoology super-duper well. I wanted to ask what does this have to do with mission and evangelism. I was lost  in the middle of the analogy when suddenly the middle became the end.

The speaker began to call people forward in response to what God was doing in their hearts. He called those who felt the burden to go, to be like a duck to one side of the platform. Meanwhile, he called those committed to support, to resource, like the beavers to another side of the platform.

I couldn’t help myself as I was drawn out of my seat toward the front. I couldn’t say emotion of a great service grabbed me, no, this was bigger than that. I felt compelled to go forward and stand with the ducks, the group committed to go, to be on mission with God. There was no doubt in my mind where I should stand, although the cobwebs were still in my head keeping me from fully grasping what was happening. But I was there. I responded to the call for missions with my friends.

However, I completely rearranged what God was saying. I didn’t want to accept the going as the call and wanted to be a missionary to my people, to my city.

Long story short, I avoided the mission’s call to the best of my ability. I avoided the girls in Bible College with a call to missions. I ducked my calling without even knowing it. In my mind, I was staying on track to be a pastor, a church planter to Chicago, a missionary to my city. My plans made such good sense to me.

But all of this changed when I met my wife shortly after graduating Bible College.

When things started to get serious, she informed me of her calling to missions. Immediately, my heart dropped. I thought, how could this be. I worked so hard to get by without getting in a relationship with a missionary. She wanted to lay out the framework for how things were going, make sure her calling didn’t get derailed.

She gave me three options:

  • We could continue dating, and if things progressed, we could date while she served overseas for a year and get married when she comes back.
  • We could continue dating and if things led to marriage, go overseas together for a year.
  • Or, we could break up.

And the story ended happily ever after as we ended up going together as a married couple.

Soon I discovered this was my calling. Soon I came around to understand that I fulfilled what God spoke into me that night when I slept through the message. I became the missionary, the duck who would fly far to take the gospel to distant places. I ended up on God’s path all along even though I worked hard to get around it, to juke Him. He would not be juked or jived. God took me where he wanted me to be.

I found that it doesn’t matter if we forget our calling, as long as we stay close to God we will get where he wants us to be.

Now, for years, one thing plagued me. Who was the speaker? I usually remembered the different camp speakers who impacted my walk. I was good with names, but not this one. As a punk high school student who knew nothing about anything, I totally missed the significance of who this was. I went on my way never giving a second thought to who it was that spoke into my life. I could not tell you who that divine contact was for the life of me.

I told the story again and again merely calling him some old dude. But now, after years of serving overseas and now teaching on the subject, I wanted to know who it was. Who was this man that gave me a passion for missions?

Where could I turn to find the answer? I asked around to those from my church, to others who might know with no results. Finally, I sought the answer from the former camp director’s wife. I messaged her on Facebook and after several attempts, she sent me the answer. When I heard who the speaker was, I was floored. I could not believe it.

Don McGregor.

Yes, the one and only, Don McGregor. I was clueless at 17 who he was, but as a student at Bible College, I found him fascinating when he spoke in one of my classes on leadership. I still remember things he said there.  To this day, I have stored away some of the nuggets on leadership I learned from this giant in missions. But our interaction was short-lived. It was not for a much longer time later that I met him again.

In our last year as missionaries, we met the then, 84-year-old missionary statesman at a conference. He quickly became one of my heroes. As one of the pillars of Foursquare Missions, he blazed a path that still has fruit throughout Asia. Oh, and in his mid-60s, he spoke at my little camp, the night I awoke to my calling.

Tell me this. What was your calling like?

Worship as Mission

I remember a time when our church went to a park for Sunday service. I felt like there was something freeing and missional about being outside. We did what we normally do inside of the church building, but this time we were outside, in the local park. We were not weird, or fanatical. We were regular, everyday people singing songs to our maker as we gathered in his cathedral, the great outdoors. Yet to many gathered, worship in the park felt unnatural. Still others stayed home thinking it was not real church.

Today, we think of worship as something for believers to offer God. Worship becomes a private act between Christians and the Almighty. Sometimes we even bring it down to a personal, personal level as we turn on our favorite worship music in the privacy of our car or bedroom. Do we ever consider that worship was intended for something different? Could worship be more public?

We have heard the common mantra in mission circles, “Mission exists where worship does not” as an oversimplification as to the necessity of mission.

I want to begin a short series over the next weeks in which we flip that statement upside down. I will unpack the idea of worship as mission with its implications as seen through the whole of scripture. .

As I reflect on some of my favorite innovations in church, they often are hinged on worship. The reformation was deeply rooted in music and hymnaty. Luther wrote songs to the tunes of popular bar melodies. The singing of the Anabaptists and others pushed their movement forward. Jack Hayford and Roy Hicks Jr. pressed the edges with choruses in the 1970s as church moved from traditional forms of worship to newer ways of connecting with God. I remember one time at the Cornerstone Music Festival Martin Smith from Delirious told stories of how their music (keep in mind this was the late 90s) drove revivals in the UK.

As I consider motifs of mission that weave through scripture threading together a tapestry of God’s action with God’s people to draw all nations to know him, I think of worship as a picture we have narrowly left as something inside the church with little thought to missiological implications. In this series I will show how worship reflects God and our relationship with him to outside observers. I will look at three case studies from scripture with modern illustrations. These case studies will draw from the life of Abraham, Paul and Jesus to illustrate how worship plays a role in revealing God to all nations. For the purpose of this series I will confine worship to the acts of worship seen in the life of God’s people without wading through the broad definitions of worship in the Old Testament and New Testament, nor the understanding of worship as a lifestyle.

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.
(Andy)

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.

An Example of Contextualization: A Look at Love

Let me take a side road for a moment in this ongoing discussion of Contextualization on the blog. When I sat in my MA class at Wheaton College with Dr. Moreau, my wife held down the fort with the church in Bangkok. Not only that, she was also taking care of our 16-month-old daughter and brand-new 4-month-old puppy while I spent two weeks taking intensive classes in the Chicago area. Probably not the best idea for us to get a new puppy a week before leaving, but Ellie was desperate to have a dog, and I wanted the extra protection while I was gone.

Not only was my precious wife carrying double, no triple, no triple-and-a-half load for over two weeks, Tina was left home alone on our anniversary. But she never held that against me, supporting me all along as much as any wife could do. She even sent me love notes every hour, scheduled on our Mail Chimp service used for newsletters. I kept getting emails from her throughout class wondering what she was doing up so late. Finally it sunk in when I kept getting Mail Chimp alerts. Mailchimp wasn’t sending me some update about their service or promotion for something new…my wife had a well-crafted and perfectly executed way to show me her love and devotion. I want to share one such letter here that perfectly illustrates contextualization.

Andy,

I hope your enjoying your class today. I was thinking about contextualization and how our lives, our love, themselves became contextualized when we moved to Thailand. No longer could we hold hands or show affection in public after we moved here. It didn’t change our love, just our expression of it. I think the Gospel is the same way. The message, the content, shouldn’t change when we bring it from one country to another but how it is expressed changes. The same base is there but superficially things have changed. Anyways, just a thought…

Love and kisses,

Your wife

Succinct and to the point…We cherish even little trips out of the country for a visa run where we can hold hands again. No holding hands in Bangkok also means no pecks on the cheek, no smooches in public, no arms around the waist…no public displays of any kind. Yet we love each other more now than ever even if some of the forms have changed in how we express and communicate our love.

Shouldn’t the love story of God with his people be able to transcend culture while at the same time inculcating itself within each and every people group?

What word picture would you use to describe contextualization?

Should There be an American Church?

I’m taking a contextualization class in three weeks. In preparing for this class, I have been doing lots of reading on this highly debated topic. How far is too far for “contextualizing the gospel”?

However, I am still pondering this question. Should we have an African church, a Chinese church, a Thai church, a Latin American church, or even an American church? When we speak like this, it’s almost as if the church’s are in tension with each other.

When I read the New Testament, I find simply the church. Paul wrote the church in Galatia, the church that met in Colossae, the church in Ephesus. Revelation spoke of the church in Laodicea among the other six cities. I get the sense we have turned the church upside down looking to culture as our guide rather than first being an extension of God’s family. We often let culture shape the church rather than the church shape culture.

As a missionary with five years of service in Thailand, I am far from saying I have all the answers. More to the point, I have more questions than clear understandings. I wonder what are the universal indicators that the church exists. I see Paul establishing a church wherever he went with certain unchanging particulars, a DNA of sorts. They each had faith, love, and hope as part of their essence.

How does the church exist in a setting without being defined by its location? At the same time, how does the church become local in its setting? There will always be subtle differences from place to place as how the church functions. The church will look different in language, dress and style, but when does this cross the line from contextualization to compromise?