Monday, November 26, 2012

Bound by one language. It's Humbling.

The week before Thanksgiving, I had the distinct privilege to collaborate with people from other continents at the 2012 Global Teams Strategic Planning Conference.  The opportunity came as a result of collaborating with Ubabalo and One Hope as a writer for "Coaching for Life", a document conceived in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and now in field test around the globe. Many of you provided prayer and financial support for the Stellenbosch trip, so you are somewhat responsible for launching me into the world of Sports ministry.

Your prayer support for this current venture made all the difference in this most recent endeavor.  I apologize, the holidays have delayed me in reporting back, but know reflections of the work accomplished and the connections made have been on my heart and in my mind daily.

As an American girl with a privileged and admittedly naive US perspective, I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the GTSP, but anxiously prayed God would use me or at least use the experience to teach me.  I confess my fervent prayer was I wouldn't make a fool of myself or worse yet, offend the others around the tables by jumping in a day late.  (I had another meeting in Colorado that overlapped with the Global Sport Conference putting me one day behind the rest. I wasn't so sure I'd be able to get up to speed.) 

The first morning, I was treated to a warm welcome from every person I encountered during breakfast. Two hundred people from all over the world introduced themselves enthusiastically... at 7am, before their first cup of coffee/tea, no less.  After breakfast, I reunited with friends from Stellenbosch and that  helped me feel even more at ease. Yep, total strangers from other countries made ME feel comfortable with warm greetings in excellent English... in MY country no less.  Humbling...

Yes, there were plenty of Aussies and Brits around, but for the majority of people English was their second or third language and they spoke it, fluently.  I recall thinking I should have paid more attention in French class or chosen to study Spanish because I tend to find myself tongue tied in English!

Breakfast was easy enough, but my next step would be to find my Project Team - a group a day ahead of me in familiarity and task development.  When I finally found my team's table, I introduced myself as a writer.  I was welcomed instead as if a long lost friend.   Our facilitator said I was bringing much needed new energy to the process.  I think what she was sensing was nervous energy, but I was grateful for her enthusiastic and encouraging introduction just the same. I looked around the table at Christians from the United Kingdom, Egypt, Singapore, Africa, Russia, India and the US.  Each represented different sports ministry but one Lord. We prayed together as one united in Christ, then quickly got to work.

Before I even arrived I realized our task was somewhat vague or else it was appropriately unstructured. To this day, I can't say for sure.  As I understood it, my Project Team were charged to address children as leaders and create a document to help others in the international Christian sports movement identify and mentor children with leadership potential.  We had spent some time emailing each other, gathering information and poising questions to bring focus of purpose, but past that I was clueless.  Much to my relief and before my arrival, my international colleagues had identified, quantified and qualified the task at hand. They also had it neatly recorded on several pieces of chart paper displayed on the adjacent wall.

Looking at me for some fresh perspective, they let me scan their notes then poised the question, "What is the definition of child leadership?" Arrogantly, I wondered why that wasn't fleshed out already, but I was happy to be asked about one thing I had researched.  So, like everyone else around the table I scribbled my definition onto a sticky note and tossed it into the middle of the table.  Thank God, we were on the same page.  Our definitions were worded differently, but basically the same. Also, thank God, they were seeking a definition to simply affirm what they'd already accomplished.  What a relief!

With a working definition, our Project Team divided the writing task into bite sized pieces and broke into smaller groups to write the Why, What or How portion of a white paper on Child Leadership. Each day, we started the morning with prayer, compared notes and kept refining our portions.  By week's end we created a solid working document which we will edit and add to over the coming months.

Working together on anything does create familiarity and friendship, so our Project Team had our fair share of laughter and joking with each other.  We took time to inquire about families, ministries and share photos during breaks, sharing cultural tidbits under the guise of sharing about our lives. The  testimonies and spiritual struggles shared were so inspirational, especially for this "free to be Christian"from American whose closest brush with persecution involved being the only UNC fan in a room full of NCSU fans.

I've experienced this closeness of purpose before, but I seriously cannot recall working with a more unified and productive team on a writing task!  It's rare to find that level of unity of purpose and cooperative spirit in ministry work here in the US.  We aspire to it.  We study and train to do it, but we usually fall short.  Our egos, personal agenda and lack of discipline may be to blame, but I DO know it's not language or culture that trips us up.

Here's my "Ah-ha!". All my other writing experiences were with "writers" composing in English - their first language.   I had so many take aways at GTSP, both spiritual and observational, but this one tops them all.  The majority of people on this writing team were composing in their second language and none of them considered themselves writers!  Add to that, two of our team mates were dealing with some very serious medical emergencies or ministry deadlines back home.  (We actually spent more time around the table in prayer addressing those specific spiritual needs than we did writing.)

As the "writer" on this Project team, I found myself humbled in my own country and language.  First off, they were visitors in my country, yet they made me feel welcome and at home among them.  I know my southern accent was probably difficult to understand, but they always listened intently and got my meaning, regardless.  Language was never a barrier.  A few times, my colleagues would apologize for struggling for the right word to express a thought.  All I could think was I do that ALL THE TIME and I speak English exclusively.  As for spelling, I enjoyed teasing my UK team mate because she used WAY too many "u"s and "i"s, but I know if not for spell check, I couldn't spell any better than my Egyptian, Russian and African team mates.  Each afternoon, I marveled at their compositions, both clearly stated and concise, knowing I couldn't write a single letter, much less word in Hindi, Russian or Arabic!

This humbling experience and "Ah-Ha!" won't result in my learning to speak or write a new language.  Language nor writing has ever been my gifts.  I struggle with both.  What has happened is this year my world has expanding beyond the safe borders of the USA.

This humbling "Ah-Ha!" has successfully shaken me out of my comfort zone -  my ethnocentric world view.  I now realize I must be sensitive to the needs and cultures of all God's children - all over the world.  To that end, I'm experiencing a yearning to understand perspectives of people from outside the USA.  I've already experienced a taste of what they can teach me about loving God.  I need more time to listen and learn.

Tonight, even though I'm helplessly bound by one language. I'm thankfully God's NOT bound by one language... or any language for that matter.  With God there are no bounds. It is a relief to know no one is depending upon ME, or my gifts and talents. All I need do is play my part on the team.  With or without me,  dedicated faith-filled people all over the world will  continue sharing God's love and His Gospel in the face of adversity and opposition in their own country and language, because they too cling to God's boundless love for protection and assurance.

If writing lessons and training tools to reach children for Christ will make the work more effective,  I will continue to write in my one language, knowing God, who knows no bounds, is providing others who can translate what I have to offer into languages I will never understand and might never hear spoken.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sabbaticals - I highly recommend them.

A year ago,  I followed God's call to step out of a local church position.

Since then I've had the time for -

  • quiet reflection and prayer.
  • unstructured time to indulge myself in crafts and projects around the house. 
  • extended play time with family and friends.
  • exercise to keep me limber and strong.
  • writing this blog and contributing to a Sports ministry resource and a column for Children's Ministry Magazine.
  • visiting other churches, sometimes to train ministry teams and other times to worship or serve.
  • independent study and networking with other; Kidmin2012 IT Team, Kidmin2012 for example. 
  • stress free quantity time to nurture and reconnect with family and my family by choice.
Up until my arrival at Kidmin 2012, I struggled with exactly what to call my time outside local church Kidmin.  

Sometimes I'd say, I'm on vacation, but then I had to endure the jealous and insensitive comments like  "I'd take a year off too, if I didn't HAVE to work." "What do you do all day? Shop?" I loved the positive and supportive comments. "Pack me in your suitcase. I'd love to join you!" "I'm so proud of you. Let me know how I can support your ministry work." 

Other times, I would allow others to think I'd retired. When in your late 50's, if you don't have "a job" where you go to an office, people automatically assume you're retired. It's easier to indulge the notion than to explain a busy life of consulting. Trust me, eyes glass over when I try - even my own.

But while listening to two Kidmin colleagues share about a recent and an upcoming sabbatical, I realized there was a minimal difference between their sabbatical and my time outside the local church. Their sabbaticals were a scheduled, required and essential part of their church ministry position. Also, while on Sabbatical they got paid and when over, they returned to work in the same church and in the same position.   But those differences were of no importance to me for I was enjoying a full year away on God's tab and I knew I'd return to local church ministry.  I just didn't know when or where yet. 

What was important was I finally had a name for my situation!  It was such a revelation for me and probably a laugh for my colleagues when I piped in with "So, I'm on sabbatical?  Yeah, that's it! I'm on Sabbatical, too!" 

Having experienced this time of sabbatical, I must say, it's one of the most effective and helpful experiences of my ministry life.  Thanks to God, just like my colleagues who experienced a formal church sanctioned sabbatical, I will return to work in a local church sometime sooner or later refreshed, retooled, revived and refocused.  

And to all you out there, if you like me were able to cobble together a sabbatical on God's tab, be thankful. If your church provides a sabbatical, you are blessed.  In either situation, I suspect your tenure and your personal life will be long and fruitful regardless of who provides the funding.  

If you've never had the opportunity and feel the need for extended time away to be refreshed, retool, revived and refocused, I pray God uses your church or finds another way to provide that time for you. I I am convinced it may be the best investment a church can make in their professional staff.  It totally beats the pain, expense and time it takes to replace a worn out, burned out, Kidmin or Pastor.

Sabbaticals - I highly recommend them. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

God Sightings Illuminate Romans 8:28

When God wants to do a work in us, he usually starts by working all around us. Its like He is making smaller and smaller concentric circles around us. Each God sighting circling in closer and closer bringing attention and focus to His deliberately crafted plan for our lives.

Well, at least that is my experience.

Recently, I've been posting on my revisit to God's dream for my life as a Kidmin.  I must admit I've been so introverted and "me" focused, its shameful.  It is also unnatural for I am a true extrovert who gains strength and energy from contact with others. Seriously, I should be kicked out of the Myers-Briggs ENFJ club for hiding from my true nature!  No wonder God decided to draw my focus outside myself by surrounding, connecting and reconnecting me to others in Kidmin by using them to illuminate Romans 8:28.

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."
Here are those recent God sightings swirling around me

  • God replaced the Kidmin at my home church with the young lady who was my very first Children's Ministry assistant. Her tender heart for God's children was her call, but the world stomped it flat and she resigned a year later.  Thankfully, she continued to volunteer for years and God finally drew her back into Kidmin fifteen years later.  The day I found out she walked into the pharmacy where my husband was filling in for the day.  Imagine the God sightings all around when together they text me to share about her joyful return to her ministry dream job.  Imagine my joy, and their shock, when I text back I already knew and had been praying for her all day. Yes, this was evidence that being stomped flat by the world can't counter the"God causes everything" in the"God causes everything to work together" part of Roman's 8:28 
  • God moves a former colleague into a staff position at a church I actually considered serving.  This fellow servant and I do not play well together.  We both love God, but God knows what's good for us and it's NOT working together.  (Oh come on! Do not judge me. I'm sure you have a person like that in your ministry life, maybe like me, more than one.) The God sighting was I was not sure why I was not interested in that position, nor they interested in me, but this placement made it perfectly clear.  Relieved God prevented another ministry train wreck, I celebrated God's "No!" with abandon. It illuminated the "for the good of those who love God" can be to circumvent incompatibility for our own good.  
  • God called a real long shot into the Children's ministry position I resigned a year ago.  This recent seminary grad and former ministry volunteer I worked closely with served on the search committee for months before realizing God was calling him to fill the Children's pastor's position himself.  I heard him say more than once, he wasn't gifted to work with kids, so no one was more surprised to be called into Kidmin than he was.  I am pretty sure this gentle, humble man knew God would provide all kinds of unsolicited and unexpected gifts and talents in children's ministry to fulfill the calling or he wouldn't have answered the call.  It illuminated, in rare form I might add, the "according to his purpose" in "called according to his purpose for them" can be evident in unexpected gifts and talents to serve in unsolicited surprising roles. 
  • This year God's shown His ONE universal mission and commission. Matthew 28:19-20, "...go and make disciples of all the nations..." He says GO which is probably going to involve lots of leaving.  It is hard to say good bye to people you worked with side-by-side with in joy, but in taking Romans 8:28 to heart, I've embraced a truth that bolsters my faith in any instance of separation - good or sad.  I find myself praying and celebrating those I've left and looking forward to embracing those I've yet to meet.  This year of free fallin' illuminated the "work together" part anew showing all things DO work together, yet not all of us are meant to work together, physically side by side, for ever.  "Go" means you'll be asked to leave those you love. 
  • And the concentric circles of the above God sightings of scripture illumination brings me full circle.  "And we know God causes" part of Romans 8:28 is clear as day.  Every bit of this I "KNOW God causes"!  Two days ago, He caused a colleague I sat beside during a Kidmin 2012 Preconference workshop to email me right out of the blue.  It had ALL the markings of a  be"cause" of God sighting.  God caused a kindred spirit bond as she quoted my favorite blessing from Ephesians. Only God knew which of His words were needed. Then, much to my delight she poured out her praises for all God did in her during her conference experience and in her ministry focus as she returned home.  My favorite part of all was when she took her “Here Alone” button off her lanyard as a symbolic gesture of not feeling alone in the ministry anymore.  I couldn't write a better endorsement!  And get this, she didn't know I was blogging about my conference experience.  She just saw my face in Children's Ministry Magazine and felt compelled to contact me.  Folks, she didn't even know I have a blog, but...
"... we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." Romans 8:28

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