Thursday, February 21, 2008

Missions and Singleness

(Something I've been thinking about, preparing to teach on pioneers in missions, this week.)

I firmly believe that the sometimes-frustrating circumstances of our lives, and our apparent weaknesses and vulnerabilities, are just as much a gift from God as our skills and strengths. And sometimes these things are so 'redeemed' that they truly seem assets and not liabilities.

Case in point: being single. It's not unusual for me to meet young women who are interested in missions but don't think they could make it overseas without a husband - it seems like a real sacrifice, a real limitation. As a matter of fact many do go, so it must not be impossible. Friends studying in one Arab country told me, a few years ago, that the expatriate community in their city included 26 couples, 2 single men, and 21 single women.

Where are the marriage-minded, ministry-minded Christian guys? Not on the field. More often to be found in (or heading for) the pastorate? So, if you are a single woman, it's a great idea to find someone you click with once you get to the field. It happens. But the odds are against it happening very often. Marry a local? Possible, but not advisable in most cases.

So, we have to accept that single women on the field are a population here to stay. Even if they are a population most of us are squeamish about being part of. But, even if a single woman can accept her singleness - at least for a season - on a personal level, what effect does it have on her ministry? Some fear, going into a traditional society where being unmarried may seem shameful or inexplicable, they will be rejected, or misunderstood, or unable to have an influence. Nobody will listen to a single woman, will they?

These are legitimate concerns.

On the other hand, it's been my experience though that singleness can be a real asset in ministry (at home or overseas). Often we who are single can serve with greater flexibility and availability. The fact that we seem vulnerable only encourages others to take us into their families. That can feel awkward or humiliating at times, but in the end it really works. Single women may end up a lot less isolated, in terms of making local friends, than married women are. And the very 'weirdness' of the situation can be an open door to model what it looks like to trust God to meet one's needs, with or without a human agent.

Consider my friend M., who works in the Muslim world. Some of you know her; some years ago she was the personnel director at our now-dearly-departed former organization. M. writes:
"They're constantly astonished. I can't count the times I've had this conversation with Muslims here:

'Why don't you have any children?'
'God hasn't given me any... I've never been married.'
'You're kidding! Why haven't you been married?'
'God hasn't given me a husband.'
'Don't you want one?'
'Well, actually, it's been partly my choice to remain single, because I will only marry a man if he loves Jesus with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and there aren't very many of those kind in the world.'

"And so goes another natural opening for sharing about 'my Maker, my Husband, the Lord Almighty is His name, the Holy One of Israel, my Redeemer, the God of all the earth!' (Isaiah 54:5). So being single definitely has its benefits. I thank Him for these and many other encouraging moments He's given me in 2007 to scatter gospel seeds."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Robert Fulgham, on Life Lists and Travel

(Click on the title bar to go to Fulgham's original, more meandering blog posting.)

"Perhaps it’s useful to pass along some recent thoughts about travel.

"I’ve recognized that my travel motivation comes from being restless and bored with where I am and what I’m doing. Need a break or a change.

"And I’ve slowly learned that that condition and those needs can be addressed without going far, or being gone long, or spending much money.

"Here’s my program - in two parts:

"I thought maybe I’d go to Bali. Never been there. First, a visit to a travel bookstore, got guidebooks, maps, a history, and literary accounts of life in Bali. Also bought a couple of huge coffee-table books of photographs of Bali. A video and a music CD. Talked to some people who’d been there recently. Checked the web. And checked the fares. Bali Time for a couple of weeks for Fulghum.

"If you asked me if I’ve ever been to Bali, I would say, 'Yes, but only in my imagination. I had a wonderful time.' Two weeks on the couch every evening with my mind somewhere else resolved the bored-and-restless syndrome. I even dreamed Bali. And I didn’t come home disappointed or disillusioned by enduring the tourist madhouse that Bali has become. I was already home. Rested. Unstressed. And several thousand dollars ahead.

"In that spirit I’ve also traveled to Tibet, Mongolia, and the west coast of Norway. Next is a journey to China on the Silk Road. I won’t be gone long.

"The second part of my new travel program is more local.

"Never have I visited my own city, Seattle, in the same spirit and style in which I visit a foreign city. Local boredom comes from traveling in local ruts. There are many parts of Seattle I’ve never seen – and many lovely things I’ve missed on the grounds that I’ll get around to them someday.

"Here’s the plan: equip myself just as I would for going abroad. Take a taxi to a nice boutique hotel downtown. Walk or use only public transportation. Eat only at restaurants I’ve never visited. Go to music venues I never attend but intend to. Talk to strangers. The natives will speak my language. Ask directions even if I think I know the way. Get lost. And found. Packing for the trip will be a cinch. No airport stress, lost luggage, or money exchange confusion. And if it proves to be a bad call, as some vacations are, I’ll just catch the bus that stops at my corner and be home again. No problem.

"You get the idea. Treat home as a foreign city. This is now on my Bygod I’m going to do it list. I promise a full report."

[So, readers, where do you want to go? Or have you 'been'? MKS]

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Time Has Come...

When I came home from my recent trip, roommate Deb said, "I don't think I can take another week of this." Our house dog, Malika - deaf, blind, arthritic, and incontinent - has now almost entirely lost her ability to stand.

She's also mostly nocturnal, and her nighttime attempts to get up end in panting, whining, and eventually barking in frustration. Even with a little help she just walks in circles and falls down. Nobody in our house is getting consistent sleep now, and there doesn't seem to be much we can do to make life better for ol' Malika.

We're putting her to sleep. Have an appointment at the vet's Tuesday afternoon at 3:30. Deb is really sad. The three of us have been housemates for more than a decade.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Greatest Inventions Since the Wheel

Why do you suppose it took so long for suitcases and wheels to come together as a standard combination? I am glad it happened. It's one of the things that makes travel so much easier than it used to be.

I told my Irish joke this week. The one about how the early Celtic Christians wanted to suffer for Christ as the Desert Fathers had, but found that Ireland did not have any good deserts. So they chose the living martyrdom of taking to the road as explorers and missionary evangelists. I can relate, I said; I love what travel allows me to do, but the actual process of traveling I'd certainly consider a form of suffering!

Well, maybe I'm no longer the missionary who hates to travel. It has certainly become easier. In a spirit of gratitude, here's my top-ten list: things I appreciate about travel these days.

Ten Things that Make Traveling Easier

1. The ubiquitous wheeled suitcase, as mentioned. (Although it increases our tendency to lug around more stuff, so I suppose that's a down-side.)

2. Electronic ticketing. So nice not to have an almost-like-cash document to protect.

3. Online check-in and other efficiencies in the check-in process.

4. Being able to efficiently research and make travel arrangements over the web. (Though I still prefer to have someone else do this for me!)

5. Affordable shuttle services and/or airport parking lots, which increase flexibility and keep me from having to impose on friends and colleagues for rides all the time.

6. Laptop computers. They make it possible to travel without having to anticipate what information and materials I need and prepare them all in advance. I can even print out my materials when I get there, if necessary. I might be more relaxed if I had it all ready to go ahead of time, of course; and I do live in fear of computer theft/loss/failure... overall though, net gain.

7. Cell phones and email, which give me the capacity - though not the obligation, I hope - to stay in touch and keep up with things and people when I'm on the road.

8. The increasing availability of free wireless networks, which help me work, read, or play in so many places.

9. Globalization. The fact that I can go so many places in this country or around the world and find the businesses and products that I know and understand, just as I might expect to find them at home - well, it does reduce the stress of travel. I recognize the immense social and cultural cost that gets us to this point; we and the communities that host us do lose a lot in the transaction. But today, I'm grateful that I can 'speak the language' wherever I go and so easily pick up any stuff I need or forget.

10. Language. On the same principle, I'm grateful that I can fluently speak, understand, read, and write the English language, without which this part of the world would be a much harder place to navigate!

What would you add, or take issue with?

Traveling also gives me some boundaries and fairly persuasive deadlines, even though it's nice that they have some 'give.' The thoughts, 'I ought to get this done before I leave town,' 'I have to say no to that because I'll be gone,' and 'I'll deal with that when I get back' are helpful in that respect.

My Favorite Way to Travel...

The best kind of travel, for me - having not experienced much in the way of organized vacationing, which might also be enjoyable - is being a guest speaker. I love having other people take care of logistics. Life gives me plenty of opportunities for autonomy, so I don't mind dependence/pampering when I can get it. I like it. An airport pickup... people who will make sure I am fed, housed, transported, entertained, and introduced to interesting people along the way - who pick up all the expenses, and even send me home with a check in my pocket. Cool. Because I'm serving them in other ways, it's a win-win situation; nobody feels imposed on. Very nice.

It's probably good for my soul and/or character that my job in such situations is to stay positive, flexible, friendly, loving, and open - good habits - and that I am on the other side of this equation on a fairly regular basis too, offering service and hospitality to others, anticipating and trying to meet their practical needs.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

How Many Words a Minute?

Tonight's Islam lecture went off just about perfectly. For a lecture anyway. If I do it again I'll find some ways to break up the talking; I did have a 4-minute video I had planned to show and lead a discussion about, but I didn't quite have time for that. Instead I just lectured, with a little bit of Q&A but not much. The class seemed happy and engaged, but from a teaching perspective there was room to improve.

It did, however, give me a good chance to measure, more accurately, how much material fills two 50-minute sessions. And the answer is 8500* words - at about 400 words a page, that's just over 20 pages of lecture notes. And I guess it tells you I talk 85 words a minute, eh? Or at least, 85 written-on-the-page words. (I think they expand when exposed to air.) I wonder how that compares to other people, objectively?

[Note to people who Google 'how many words a minute' or things like that and end up on this page - Google Analytics tells me there are a number of you... Here's my advice. Time yourself. Really. Prepare your material, read it aloud at the speed at which you expect to present it, and you'll know how long it will take, how much you can cover. You can probably even figure out a minutes-per-page ratio that will help you adjust, so you don't have to time the whole thing.

Then, recognize that yielding to the temptation to add in little comments will of course change the timing. So you have to decide how much margin you need to allow. Raising or accepting questions for discussion is usually a very good idea - and people often remember what you say in the Q&A bits better than in lecture. But that also changes your timing.

The other public-speaking trick I'd suggest is to type/write your material out with headings, underlinings, and, most importantly, page numbers. Then holepunch it and put it in a binder. This keeps you from getting your pages out of order and flustering yourself.]

Also sold the rest of my books, got some contacts to follow up on, and had quite a few enjoyable conversations. Back to Colorado Friday night.

(One more scheduled trip. Feb. 25-28 I'll be in Arizona. )

* Well, my notes from another lecture total 12,000 words -- that is supposed to be two 55-minute periods, though I often show up and they tell me either 50- or 60-minute sessions are what they want, on the spot. I think it would be better for everyone if I trimmed that one to 10,000. And since that's a lecture I've given 60 times (history of the expansion of Christianity), I don't necessarily read from my notes as much as I did for the 8500 word, first-time-I've-done-this, lecture.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today is the one-year anniversary

... of the day all the staff of the ministry I had been part of for 14 years were laid off. (I wrote about it here.) Definitely a dark time. Not that the lights are shining so brightly now, but there's been a fair amount of healing.

I recently heard that some time after the demise of our ministry, one of my former co-workers, after getting together for dinner with several others, speculated, 'Is there a certain amount of time that has to be spent talking about this stuff, after something like this happens? What if we are only a quarter of the way through?"

Could be.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Woman Who Knew Too Much

The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?
-- Ecclesiastes 6:11
Man, I did it again. I opened up my history notes -- carefully crafted to fill but not overfill the given time -- and I expanded on them. As a result I got all off schedule and ended up pushing aside everything I know about good delivery, instead scrambling to get in as much as I could in the time that remained.

The class walked still walked away blessed, I hope, and probably believing me to be really smart and knowledgeable and hard working, but how much better it would be if I did not act as if I had to tell them everything I know? How can that not come across as arrogant?

You would think that after delivering this lecture 50+ times, I would be wise to this trap, this tendency, but it seems to happen each February when I teach it for the first time of the year. I think it's because I know too much. It's not like I'm brilliant, but every year I pick up another story or two that seems like it would fit. And you can't add something to an already-full plate without taking something else away. That's where I run into trouble. I've got too much good material!

This particular lesson covers the history of the expansion of Christianity in its first 15 centuries. I have two hours to teach it. So last night I was only up to the fifth century, instead of the tenth, when we took our mid-class break. What a scramble to get through a thousand years in the second hour!

The great thing about Perspectives is that it usually involves giving the same talk two or three nights in a row. The second night is always smoother. So, maybe tonight I will be able to refrain from adding back in some of the facts and stories I've ruthlessly tried to cut out.

Today was a delightfully restful day. Stayed in bed until almost 9:00 am, hung out with the B. family, and went with them to visit the grandparents who still live on the land their ancestors homesteaded on. My own relatives wanted to visit with me tomorrow or the next day but I'm doubtful it will work out since I am car-less and they are nearly three hours away. I could have planned this better, but with so much going on I had a hard time anticipating that.

So, unless I'm traversing the state, I'll just pretend this is a weekend and keep taking it easy -- putting in a couple hours on work stuff but not pushing too hard.

Pray for my Thursday lecture though: Most of it is still not written (that's what I should be doing right now...) This time it's the history of the expansion of Islam, a quite different perspective from what I'm teaching here in the Midwest. Karen Armstrong strikes just about the right tone for this in her book Islam: A Short History, so I'll use her work as my foundation. Good stuff. Oh, I know conservatives would consider her soft on Islam - I've heard she calls herself a 'freelance monotheist' - but for this purpose, she's just right.

Here's my introduction:
There is a statement in lesson 1 in your text which is significant for this lesson as well: “To understand Islam we need to look at the world through a different lens.”

Now, I don’t know how much you know or think about world history – a pretty big topic – but to really get where Muslims are coming from and understand the tensions we see in the world today we’ll need to look at some parts of history that, as Westerners, we may know little about -- as well as to look at some of the events we are quite familiar with and to consider the possibility that there may be other ways to interpret them.

To the extent we can do that, it will help us see the world from an Islamic point of view and to relate to Muslims with understanding and compassion.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Sorry, no work-at-home-Wednesday blog entry; this was another 12-hour day at the office. The latter part of 2007 was pretty quiet and a bit dull but 2008 has been different. So far this year I’ve worked an average of 54 hours a week. A good bit of it is the kind of work that provides immediate gratification or an adrenalin rush – bit addictive. So that's fun, but not the way I want to live, honestly. And not a pace I can keep up much longer.

S. and I are half-way through with the six-day Ethnography Training Course we’re teaching. We’ve had some challenges – primarily in the low numbers, late registrations, and a good bit of fuzziness on why the people who came were there in the first place. So, it’s been hard to know how to serve them. But things are flowing pretty well now and it feels worthwhile.

Right after this is over I fly out to Indiana to teach Perspectives. Fortunately I’m giving a lecture I’ve done more than 50 times.

After that, things should slow down a bit.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

40 Days of Christmas

This year the roommate and I observed Groundhog Day by watching the movie of the same name (which I love) after taking down, boxing up, and putting away our abundant collection of Christmas decorations.

About time, huh? With my busy schedule, if it hadn’t happened this weekend, we might have been in for – you got it, six more weeks of Christmas!

Easter comes early this year; Lent begins this week. So I guess it’s time to switch gears.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Chaos in Kenya and the Psalms of David

My plan for our Missions Catalyst e-Magazine this week fell apart at the last minute. I had something I thought was going to work but when I sat down with tweezers and scalpel (so to speak) to prepare the piece for publication, I saw it was not usable after all.

So the search for a replacement was on, with just one day's notice. My trusty news editor, Pat, pointed me to the email account where she gets all her subscriptions, and among the items she's starred was one about 200 Kenyan children who are gathering for daily prayer meetings to lift up their country. Perfect. Here's an excerpt:
Ever since the children started praying together, the pastor says there have been no deaths, houses burned or even violence in their section of this slum. Adults recite this fact in amazement. The children, however, don't even mention it because it's exactly what they expected to happen.

"Pastor told us that there is power in prayer. He said we can change the country through prayer," 12-year-old Boniface explains. "So that is what we are doing, changing the country."
I decided to run it, and add a few other stories from Kenya to round out the edition (you can read the end result and click through to the sources here). Here's another part I liked...
RoxAnne Cox, serving on the SIM Sudan team based in Nairobi, wrote, "We grieve for friends like Lydia, who fled for her life from Eldoret. She and her husband have lost everything. We wept together as she shared their trauma."

"I wrote Psalm 27:13 on a card for her, and the other day Lydia told me, 'I have been clinging to the verse you gave me. I shared it with a Kenyan friend who was on the verge of suicide because of the chaos. It literally saved his life, giving him hope to go on.'"
Have you ever known what it is to have the scriptures pull you out of darkness like that? I have, though maybe not to that extreme. Anyway, I don't think I'll read Psalm 27 - long one of my favorites - without thinking of these brothers and sisters in Kenya.

Psalm 27

1 The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh, [a]
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.

3 Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

4 One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.

6 Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

7 Hear my voice when I call, O LORD;
be merciful to me and answer me.

8 My heart says of you, "Seek his [b] face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.

9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.

10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will receive me.

11 Teach me your way, O LORD;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.

12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

13 I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.