Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas here and Christmas there ... and there

We've had a quiet Christmas in Charlotte this year.                                                                                                                                                          We welcomed our daughter on Christmas Eve morning -- seven hours later than planned, after her connecting flight had been cancelled.  We were grateful that she was able to get out the same evening on a re-routed flight and even more grateful for her safety on the five hour layover in the Ticketing lobby of the Raleigh Durham airport (after the terminal was closed).  It wasn't the most comfortable location for a young single woman to spend the middle of the night.

We had a great FaceTime chat with our other daughter and her husband in the UK, between their multiple Christmas services.

Stan and I woke up at our usual time on Christmas morning, had coffee and devotions, and then waited, and waited ... and waited for the kids to get up.  Even the smell of cinnamon rolls didn't budge them. Eventually we roused them for our Christmas morning breakfast and gift giving. 

We've had a a different Christmas in Charlotte.

We are a bit overwhelmed by the space we have available here. Stan took over the decorating of our home since I have been trying to get reading done for my class in January. He's did a wonderful job of making our living room festive.  It has long been a dream of ours to have a fireplace where we can hang our stockings and decorate the mantle. We're excited that our new home will also have this.

It was good to see those decorations that hearkened back to our home in Japan (taken in 2011) where our tree was on a table and the stockings hung from hooks on the top of our dining room hutch.

We experienced Christmas worship differently this year, too.

Gone are hymnbooks and singing the songs in Japanese (though our daughter was trying hard to sing the Japanese words to Silent Night while the congregation was singing it on Christmas Eve here).  I promised her that next year we would have these songbooks unpacked and could sing them at home.

Instead we were led by worship teams and projected words. The arrangements of those songs we did know were often quite different. Not bad--but different. And at each church (we are on a 3-church circuit right now) they had songs that were either unfamiliar or not part of our usual Christmas repertoire. 

The size of our fellowship at the International Community Chapel of Saitama always gave a sense of intimacy.  Frequently Christmas season provided an excellent opportunity to share the Gospel. We would have hot chocolate and cookies after the service and it would feel like a family Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, back here in Charlotte, in two of the Christmas services we attended there were over 1,000 in the worship hall and multiple services. One church had 36 different worship services across it's multiple locations, another had 10 and the third had three. (We only attended one service on Christmas Eve--chosen because they were having communion.)  After the service, people headed out to their own families and Christmas parties. And yes, there are smaller churches in Charlotte. 

What we've missed the most about being here in Charlotte this year is having places to serve.

For the past few years, Stan had been Santa at several Christmas outreaches in the Tokyo area. While here in the States it is common to see Santa in lots of places, in Japan it is only the statues of Colonel Sanders in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken that regularly are suited up. This was both enjoyable for him, and facilitated the sharing of the true message of Christmas and the Gift of the Son of God by a church actively working to make connections for the Gospel at a nearby kindergarten.

 Stan also loved to go Christmas Caroling in our neighborhood of the church in Japan.  Over the years this "strange custom" helped to make connections with people in the neighborhood.  Some even began to request that the carolers stop at their home the next Christmas.

What I missed the most this Christmas was being able to share the Gifts from Jesus with the women in my Bible Study and others in the Church.  I loved how God used the "randomness" of drawing a wrapped piece of paper to provide a word for the year for each lady.  I would record these, and sometimes would reference how God was using this in their lives as the year progressed.

It was always a significant gift to me, as well.  I have had a year of Giving, Wonderful Counselor (God provides that--to be clear--I'm not the wonderful counselor), Faithfulness, and the year I was introduced to this in California, it was Serving.

This Christmas in Charlotte we were observers and receivers in ministry.  I'm guessing that by next year, it will be different!

Meanwhile, we have SIM missionaries who experienced Christmas this year as evacuees from South Sudan. It made me think about how the Christmas story involves displaced people--Joseph flees Bethlehem with his family when news comes that Herod is looking to kill the baby Jesus.  We pray for peace for these people along with those whom they have lived with, loved and worked alongside who are left behind in the country.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Have you thanked those people who will bring your Christmas Eve service experience?

Today I happened to see the service schedule for the church where our son-in-law is curate, All Saint's Laleham. I've listened as this family tries to figure out when they'll get away to his parents' home for the holiday. 

One of the churches we attend here in Charlotte is a multi-site church with a total of "36 Christmas Worship experiences" across their locations. The schedule for the location we attend is below. Each year a number of people make professions of faith at this service and there has been a big push to invite family and friends.

The other two churches we frequent have the traditional 3 services on Christmas Eve...the last ones being at 7 pm (no 11 pm services like the Presbyterian church I attended in Nashville).

All of this makes me think of the people who are putting these services together, from the ministers and musicians, to the custodial staff.  Having been a pastor's wife for many years, my heart goes out to these folks who sacrifice a "traditional" Christmas so you can have one. While for many, it is a service that comes from a grateful heart, for others it is difficult. For families of these people sometimes Christmas isn't very joyful. Their parents are depleted when it is over. There will be those who resent the services, the season, and you--the folks these services are created to bring into worship and affirmation of faith.

So this Christmas, would you decide to express thankfulness to them, and to their families--BEFORE Christmas? Would you pray for those who are bringing you the Christmas Eve experience, and ask God to affirm their acts of faithfulness? Would you pray for their families, that they will capture the vision of the work God is doing in the hearts of those who may not darken the door of the church except at this time of year?

As for us, we will choose one of the services at Elevation this weekend, and then will attend the 7 pm service with communion at Forest Hill Church on Christmas Eve.  And pray for safety for our kids in the UK who drive to Plymouth either on the 25th or early on the 26th after that very busy weekend.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

That was fast!

We have mentioned over this fall that we were looking for a home to buy. The day after we sent out our most recent email prayer update we went to see two houses--one was a short sale, and the second had just been listed that morning. We "fell in love" with the second house and are actively working on the paperwork in order to close the sale on December 31.  We are eager to have a place we can call home.

How are we going to manage that?

As excited as we are to find the house, we close two days before we start full-time at SIM! Then on January 12, I (Faith) take off for a week-long class in my Masters of Member Care--and it's a class I really need to take to better function in my new role.

We will obviously have to take some time to move into the new place. We do not have to rush out of our current rental home, yet are eager to settle. We would appreciate prayer for quiet hearts and minds as well as physical and emotional stamina in the midst of a season of significant activity. 

Thank you!
Our new home as of January!

We once thought that home ownership would be out of the question for us--but the price of homes in our preferred part of Charlotte is quite reasonable. God provides!

We will be purchasing appliances for the house in the next few weeks, and are already gathering other furniture from various sources. If you are interested in donating toward the "set-up" please indicate that your gift is for our ministry account when you use the online giving portal at www.simusa/give or send a check to SIM USA, Donor Care, P. O. Box 7900, Charlotte, NC 28241

Additional giving instructions are available here.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A look back at two Member Care conferences.

The SIM USA contingent at the
Pastors to Missionaries conference.
I attended two conferences in the past two months that addressed Member/Missionary Care from different angles. One was focused on people who provide pastoral care for missionaries, either from a sending church, a sending organization, or a ministry specifically focused on providing this care across agencies.  The second was focused on Mental Health Professionals who work with missionaries across the spectrum of their careers.

The SIM USA contingent at the
Mental Health and Missions conference.

In reflecting on both conferences, I am reminded that missionaries tend to be amazingly resilient people and at the same time very human and vulnerable. They are in need of living in the reality of the Lord's love for them which comes from the heart of God, not from their performance.

In both conferences we heard talks about the problem of evil in the world.  We explored the theology of suffering (missionaries shouldn't be surprised when they suffer--Jesus told us they would--FYI, it shouldn't surprise you when you suffer, either). In on conference we were encouraged to remember God's presence with his people through the hard times with great expositions of several Psalms. In the other there was a presentation on the doctrine of the Trinity and how God  immersed Himself in suffering to demonstrate his love. Along with this was a warning that the spiritual anemia of the normal North American person is not sufficient to handle evil when they encounter it in overseas ministry.

We heard about EMOTIONS and how many missionaries live with the impression that emotions are not important or okay. The speaker reminded us of Eden where man experienced great and pure joy and Heaven where we will experience deep and pure joy. In between is our life now, where joy is fleeting and life is filled with pain. And "negative emotions are gifts from God to equip us to live in a fallen world."  She then illustrated major emotions and how they would work to alert and equip us to deal with situations, but how they could be used in ways that didn't serve their purpose.

We were introduced to tools to help break the cycle of destructive behaviors.  Addictions of many sorts are an unfortunate reality not only among the American Christian public and clergy, but also among missionary personnel.  It is one we Member Care facilitators need to be prepared to encounter and address. Along with the fallout from addictions come the affect on families, ministry teams, host country churches and more.  It's never a private sin.

My mentor in Member Care, Dr. Laura Gardner, listed the most common challenges in missionaries experience:
    Moral Failures
    Progress and Celebrations

One workshop was on adoption and attachment issues for people in missions. The presenter has counseled many mission families and shared some excellent and easy to understand information on the various aspects of insecure attachment that some of these kids have experienced.  She also talked about parenting issues and challenges. There were recommendations for organizations to provide pre-adoption assessments, adoption education and policies. I personally wish I had been exposed to some of these materials 18 years ago.

A most helpful presentation had to do with the approach to helping missionaries through a restoration and renewal process in partnership between the missionary, their agency and their sending church. This fits well with how we at SIM view the relationship between our mission and the missionary's church.

A month from now, I take up the mantle of the Director of Member Care at SIM USA.  When I begin this role, it will be hard to be too specific about "what" I am doing because of the confidentiality required by my position. But perhaps this blog gives a glimpse into some of the matters I and my staff will need to address among our missionaries.  I imagine that a fair amount of my time will be involved in dealing with "issues."  My hope is that I can also encourage our people to thrive, making choices to live healthily in their hearts, souls and minds, and to remind them that they are beloved by God. When the leave for their country of service, may they be equipped to take responsibility for self-care. When they return through the US office, may they find us to be caring, understanding and encouraging.

Why do we care about our missionaries?  Because God has called them to partner in the ministry of the Gospel and our passion is to see the body of Christ in all places, among all peoples    Rev. 7:9