Pursuing missions with excellence

Nine planning meetings, a study series on mission and poverty alleviation, plus countless hours of lesson crafting and workshop planning, the Ukraine STM has always seemed a bit overwhelming to those new to this ministry. A common question we sometimes hear is why does this mission trip require so much resources and preparation? Can't we just hang out? Here are a few of my personal thoughts to help answer this question.

1. Learning, Fellowship, and Encouragement:
Short-term mission trips are by definition short. It is a compressed and limited time for a foreign team to participate in the ministry of local church or organization. STM teams need to recognize that they are not going into the mission field like The Avengers, saving the locals with their superior knowledge and technology. Just because we may be materially more abundant, this does not mean we are spiritually superior. As an STM team, we need to know our place. Our position is in supporting the local church and organization rather than making us the center of their ministry. We are a partner in their ministry, and we're not the ones that run it or dictates its goals and strategy.  We can pursue a healthy partnership by first seeing STM as an opportunity to learn, fellowship, and encourage (Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions, Steve Corbett). It is with a posture of humility that we acknowledge our lack of understanding of other cultures and repents of our god-complex attitudes toward people groups we visit. We need to invest in learning from others, about others, and with the others. If we go into the mission field without putting in the time to learn about what is Mission and about other cultures and its people, we will undoubtedly do more harm than good. The sad part is, a lot of sending churches do not realize the damage they've done since most post-trip sharing are spun in a positive, more 'gracious', and sometimes, ignorant perspective. Every sending church, including ours, needs a comprehensive reflection and evaluation as to how we are accountable to our own church and the churches/organizations abroad. 

To learn well also requires us to fellowship deeply with the community abroad. Fellowship is relational, and it is not done to others, but lived out with others. It is not only about the life and challenges of the others, but it also includes sharing our own challenges and failures. Authentic fellowship with our global brothers and sisters is a testimony of the power of the Gospel in redeeming all of us. We are not their saviour or redeemer; Christ is both our saviour and healer. 

Through this process of learning and fellowship, we can then know how to encourage them with maximum fervour and effectiveness. Encouragement becomes more meaningful, rich, and respectful. It's a kind of encouragement that builds the others up and speaks into their giftings and assets rather than their needs and deficiencies.  

2. Teaching well at home and abroad
One of the primary focus in our Ukraine STM is on children and youth. As a church, we desire to see children experience the love and presence of Jesus in their lives and it is a ministry area we strive to do with excellence. This transmission of the gospel and discipleship of the next generation in another culture requires as much preparation, if not more than children and youth ministries in our own churches today. When we consider the amount of preparations, selection of curriculums, leadership training and hiring of qualified pastor within our own children and youth ministries, it is not a far stretch to expect a certain amount of work needed to do the same ministries elsewhere. How we love and invest in our children within our churches should also translate to children abroad. If we care a lot about how we teach our own children, we should also expect the same diligence, expertise, and excellence from ourselves when we lead children in another culture. We are not aiming to give leftovers on the mission field, materials or otherwise. With that said, each church must understand their assets and giftings as each congregation live out their missions authentically on the global mission field. We can't copy what other churches are doing; we have to find our own path by understanding how God has brought our community together. 

3. To be flexible, you must know what you are flexing. 
There is often a confusion between being flexible and being irresponsible. Flexibility on the mission field requires a plan or materials to flex with. While no amount of planning can satisfy all the scenarios on the ground, this does not mean we should not plan at all. God has given us our minds and resources to use for his kingdom, and we should give it all that we have been given. It is the offering of our plans as a sacrifice to God that creates a beautiful opportunity for Him to disrupt and transform us as we participate in His missions, not ours. This attitude adjustment is what will not only help us flex our plans but to become flexible and moldable in His hands. When we offer up our very best plans to God, we are sacrificing our very best to Him. We are not offering our half-hearted ideas expecting things not to go as plan, but instead, we put on the altar all that we know and learned so that God will do greater things by showing us an even better way. We offer our best because we know God can do it better. 

As our church continues to develop relationships with brothers and sisters abroad, we pray that we will continue to grow in our understanding of mission and that we will participate in missions with humility and honest self-reflection. We are not aiming for perfection, but we are aiming to reflect Christ our perfecter, to those we are given the opportunity. We hope that all mission initiatives in our church will be pursued with excellence; to the best of our abilities in body, mind and spirit, for the glory of God and His kingdom. 

Packing day redux - Thoughts

It's time to pack again, as the title says. This time, it's to pack to return to Canada. There are some trivial similarities. Same bags, almost the same people, clothes, items, etcetera. We're having fun (which seems to be, excitably, the norm, whenever both teams are together), and we've got music playing in the background - though this time, it's Crystal's "older" music instead of VBS songs.

It feels somewhat lonelier, though.

Coming here, I was nervous, not too certain about how the experience would be, how I would help, who would help me. I was excited, eager to apply what gifts God has given me in his service.

Now that our time here is coming to an end (for this year), having gone through these two weeks with people I have just met and come to know, I've built bonds. Bonds which my other team members here have had for several years. I think I can understand why they love to keep coming back.

Before I began taking part in STM preparation back in early spring, I was told that even though we come every year intending to give of ourselves to Ukraine, God is so generous that He gives back to us even more than what we first gave in our time here. We end up going back home not just having blessed others, but, through God's will, being blessed ourselves as well. It was something that I thought was strange at the time, and perhaps even a bit confusing to expect out of a mission trip. On reflection now, though, it feels very natural, and I am nothing but thankful for it.

And what more can I say? Though there are certainly many details, I will refrain from recounting them here, so that what I have already written can stand for itself. Let this post for now be testament to God being at work in Ukraine.

Day 5 (final) Roma Camp Photos

Late, but only because of uploading difficulties. Many thanks to Tomson, Lisa, and Bin; Tomson mostly for editing, everyone else for their support with the blog! It was at the campfire on day 4 that we did the altar call. Eight to ten kids came to accept the Lord that day, and we also did a re-commitment for kids that came last year and that returned this year.

We decided to keep day 5 casual and familiar, so we took them out for a hike to a nearby lake.

Hiking prep. Everybody needs water, and the Ukranian diet prefers lots of sugary snacks!



The lakeside around which we hiked. Unfortunately, we don't have many other clear shots, because there are so many trees and bushes along the trail.



We encounter on our hike an actual goat herder; further emphasis on the agricultural focus of the local region.



We in North America don't touch fruit or berry bushes/trees because of potential pesticides that might be sprayed on them, or because they might belong to somebody. In Ukraine, public services pretty much never spray pesticides, and owners are very lax about fruits and berries being picked and eaten by passer-bys. Our kids demolish a blackberry bush's offspring that we encountered during the walk.


After the hike, we performed a closing ceremony with some final words from the leaders and translators. We also gave some gifts both in general to everybody and to best performing kids who listened, lead, performed as groups, kept clean rooms, etc.

Bin catches the kids attention with a magic trick before the closing ceremony begins.



Now that we cleaned up the hut and are leaving it, it feels kinda lonely looking.





Pride and Roma

You will have seen the Day 4 photos by now, but there is unfortunately one event that morning that marred an otherwise perfect day. Note that the below is related to us in a first person view from the kids involved in it themselves. It is the final "revision" that we counselors have agreed to accept as what actually happened, but we only arrived at it after several people involved in it changed what they said. And there is obvious disagreement between the people involved on account accuracy.

One of our younger participants felt that another older one had been disrespectful to one of his family members; it is unclear whether he means one of his sisters/relatives attending the camp with him, or another relative that he or his brother shared about at bedside on Wednesday night. He confronted the older participant Thursday morning in the elder's room, while all the camp leaders and translators were doing devotions. The younger asked the older participant to take back what he had said or done. The older one refused.

At this point, we do not know who pushed who first, but there was a physical confrontation. The younger participant's neighbor heard the commotion and rushed to defend him; the older participant's two friends, who came from the same Roma camp as him, also noticed what was going on and did likewise, escalating the confrontation until the younger participant and his neighbor left the room.

We would not receive word about this incident until breakfast time, when three boys refused to show up at breakfast.

This has been heavy news on the entire Roma team. I personally have fellowship with the three older boys at the same table everyday, every meal, and am a role model for them; the other leaders have similar or deeper levels of relationships with all five boys.

We have asked the younger participant to apologize to the older one for fighting with him, and asked the older one to apologize for disrespecting the younger's female relatives. Both have complied. But the older one has refused to accept the younger one's apology, and when asked, also refused to apologize to the younger one for fighting with him. He instead asked to leave; to call his camp to provide a ride for him. When Lisa tried to convince him to stay, he declared he would walk if he had to, so he could return to his camp. His two friends also asked to leave after he did so.

In the end, we granted the requests of all three boys. But it is with burdened hearts that we do so.

Upon hearing about this after the Roma camp, Vasya himself noted that the outcome of the confrontation was to be expected. Despite having much of their culture, their identity, and their very dignity as human beings stripped away, the Roma remain fiercely prideful. In fact, their pride forms a mental protection and coping mechanism for dealing with how unfair the world deigns to treat them; but this same invulnerable shield is a terrible wall that blocks out forgiveness, mercy, grace, and the immense love that comes from the saving message of Christ's resurrection.

It is a tragedy, that pride is one of the few things that the present Roma share in common with other humans. And where it concerns missions, they would be better served without it if they are to willingly and sincerely come to Christ and mature in His character.

I don't intend to sound like I'm pontificating or self-righteous. If I am, I apologize. But I am all too familiar with pride, and it's destructive results to both the self and to everyone around it. To see it here, with only trivial differences between it and my past experiences, has saddened me, angered me, and put me on my guard. My fellow teammates also had strong reactions to this, though I will respect their thoughts and not attempt to detail them here.

On Monday, we will be visiting the camp that the three elder boys came from, to host a day camp. We expect the pastor of that camp will ask us why those three will be sent back, and we will have to recount our story. Though my fellow team members may have some idea of what will come, I have no clue what kind of fallout the confrontation will create, or if we will even get a chance to communicate with those boys, who need our prayer and intervention by the Holy Spirit.

Please pray for us, as we battle with our emotions and our reactions to this storm. Please pray for the continued mission to the Roma, that God will work boldly through it to bring his children back into his family. But most importantly, please pray for the Roma themselves.

Pray specifically for the five boys who fought each other, and pray for the Roma as a whole, that humility would become a virtue, and not a vice to them.

Pray that the godliness that Christ and the servants of God show become a role model for young and old Roma alike, displacing their old, prideful sin nature.

Thank you, for your time in reading this, and in what care and thought you might have for our progress.

Roma Camp...Is Almost Over?

A crazy fourth day. That's what I have so far off the top of my head. It's like the kids themselves have realized internally that everything is about to end, and they are putting everything into it. They're more talkative, rowdy, inquisitive, and sometimes even a bit more naughty. But they are also more energetic in worship and incredibly active in crafts and lessons - even more so than in previous days. In the end, our altar calls for confession after presentations and for re-commitment after campfire night was incredible.

Even as I pray for our fellow House of Mercy colleagues, my mind also comes back to our kids at the Roma Camp, and I feel the need to pray for them as well. May God keep their minds on love, and their hearts on His word. May God protect them from the aggression of others, and shield them from their own pride and the self-centered sinful nature that infects all mankind.

We are all ultimately equal in God's eyes, but some of us need His grace more often, and in larger quantities - especially when they themselves don't realize it. And so I pray, as yet another day ends.