I have to be honest with you. I made a promise to you, my tribe, to be vulnerable and open, and so here we are. We are down and disheartened right now.
My husband and I have worked our way in to roles where we have more influence and impact on global issues and global missions than we have ever had in our careers. We now serve in circles and countries and situations where we can effect real change and empower people to make significant differences in the world and the Kingdom. We work directly with people who are changing the face of world poverty, human trafficking, water issues, human migration patterns, leadership development, and education around the globe. We coach and counsel and lead people who regularly sit in the offices of mayors and ambassadors and prime ministers and presidents. All of this is good. In fact, all of this is great! Real impact and real influence. Empowerment and development of grass roots programs, and people doing incredible things. But one fact remains…
Leadership is not sexy.
We aren’t doing “sexy missions” anymore. We are now leading and developing and caring for those people who do. We help to empower them and lift them up. We help to train them. We are the faceless mentors behind those incredibly great front-line workers.
We serve in a different way now. We are about Training, Mobilization, and Service. We aren’t digging the water well personally – but we counsel the guys who do. We aren’t living in a high security, closed access country teaching education programs and empowering local teachers and students – but we are the coaches for the ones who do that work. We aren’t sitting on dirt floors with mothers and babies in impoverished villages in the bush – but we mentor those who are. And we aren’t personally curing disease or bandaging the injured in medical clinics in the jungle or on war-torn borders – but we are helping heal the trauma that those people carry with them day in and day out.
There was a time when we did many of those things personally. We spent years doing work with poverty, with empowering women, and with hunger. We spent years helping with medical campaigns and serving in places that never see doctors or health care. We founded education programs in villages with little access to resources and high rates of illiteracy. We served in community development projects and harvested crops and milked goats and raised chickens and fed the hungry. And we planted churches and discipled new believers where before there had been none. We have vast experience on the front lines of ministry, mission, and humanitarian efforts. That experience and those years of service are exactly what lead us to be what we are today… mentors, leaders, trainers, coaches, and counselors for the next generation of cross-cultural workers that are taking up the torch and stepping in to serve.
In the corporate world, this is exactly how it should work! Younger workers spend years getting their feet wet, working their way through roles and job descriptions and career paths until one day they are really good at what they do, and they have the experience necessary to step up the ladder and train up the new recruits. They become leaders and mentors. Their earning power increases and their resumes build. They become team leaders or department heads or executives. They have arrived.
But it’s just not quite like that for cross-cultural workers who become leaders and take on leadership roles. At least it hasn’t been for us, nor for some of our peers. There hasn’t been any earning increase – we continue to be fully dependent on churches and partners and donations for funding the work. Now that 80% of our work and roles are related to leading others and mentoring, training, developing, and coaching, we are no longer seen as “real missionaries” by the general public. Our influence is greater, our responsibility is greater, our ability to impact effective change in real world issues is greater – yet we are losing funding every day because we aren’t “front line enough”. We don’t post photos of us curing diseases or healing the sick. We don’t have video of us wandering through dusty streets with native people groups. We don’t personally plant churches in war-torn areas. And we aren’t seen wearing traditional clothing or eating unknown foods. That used to be us, but not in this season. This season is a season of leadership and of training up and empowering and caring for our peers - other cross-cultural workers.
Leadership isn’t sexy. It doesn’t fit the traditional narrative for cross-cultural work. It doesn’t yield spectacular photos or near-death experiences or wild animal tales. But it’s necessary. It’s dirty in a different way. It’s front-line in a different way. It reaches the unreached and least-reached in a different way. And it’s what we are called to in this season. It’s the role we have risen to. It’s what we believe in.
I know we make a difference. I know we are holding others up when they don’t think they can keep going for one more day. I know that training matters, that development matters, that mentoring matters. It matters in the corporate world. It matters in the academic world. And it matters in the mission world. I know it matters.
Not all cross-cultural work is sexy. But that doesn’t make it less valuable. I know this calling still matters to God.
As Italy and Greece and other European countries have worked to seal their borders, Spain has become Europe’s number one destination for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Numbers of arrivals have more than tripled during the first half of 2018, and still a steady stream of people arrive by land and sea every day.
Billy attended the meeting for Coordination of Immigrant Services this week in our pueblo. Antequera is currently the settling point for 2413 immigrants. In little Antequera, our neighbors include people from Afghanistan, Albania, Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Kenya, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Syria, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yemen… and that is just to name a few! In all, there are 74 nationalities represented in Antequera as immigrants and refugees.
Neighboring initiatives are really important to us! Jesus says there are two biggies that we need to focus on. In Matthew 22:37-39 he says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Well, the way we see it, this ‘love your neighbor’ business must be pretty important! And obviously, in Antequera, our neighbors include a pretty big population of immigrants and refugees.
We have a neighbor who received asylum in July. (name withheld to protect his identity and security) He is new, he is alone, and he needs friends. He speaks zero English and zero Spanish. He speaks a very specific dialect of Arabic. We were connected to him via cross-cultural worker connections in other countries and agencies— they knew him and knew that he was being resettled in our town, so they sent us his name and contact info. He joins us for church, he comes to our young adult group, and we share a cup of tea and occasional meals together. Yes, we have our communication issues - he is beginning to learn Spanish, and we have become pretty efficient at using translator apps to fill in the gaps. But even with language struggles, this relationship is so worth it!!! He is a blessing to our lives! Being able to be “family” for him is a privilege!
This is just one example of what loving our neighbors looks like. This is normal in our house. Last night, we had people from 5 different countries around our table. Our life is enriched by all of these friends and their cultures. Life spent with them is beautiful and precious! Try it… go out and love your neighbor. I promise, it will be the experience of a lifetime. Jesus said so!
This. This is walking alongside someone. This is discipleship. This is my husband helping a friend. This is the Bible in Spanish and English and Arabic all at the same time. This is what it looks like to walk with an immigrant friend through language learning and faith and culture. This is loving your neighbor.
This is what rush hour looked like when I drove home the other night. Watch and listen. Thank you, Jesus, for goats! they make me laugh every time! Goats are my happy place. And dogs. And chickens. And horses. Okay... animals... animals make me super happy!
Any time you live and work in another culture and language, you are going to come up against challenges. A lot of them are really pretty funny. Embarrassing, but funny. And you just have to laugh and learn from it, because if you are too serious and beat yourself up about it, you won’t make it out here in the big world of cross-cultural service. Here’s one recent example:
In a meeting of church leadership, I (Laurie) said, “We need people to be cheerleaders (porristas) for the event and encourage people.” Others at the table responded with strange looks and gasps.
Then one leader said, “What do you mean by porristas?”
“Cheerleaders… you know, people who encourage you and give energy to the event. Like in sports on the sidelines? (odd looks) Like in High School Musical? (ah ha! Clarity registered on their faces.) The whole time I’m waving my arms and making cheer moves from my high school days.
Then the founding pastor said, “we don’t use that word here. Where did you learn that word?”
“Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru.”
He says, “Oh. Latin America. Well, we don’t say that. Porristas are people who smoke marijuana. We don’t need that at this event.”
Oops… note to self… no porristas at church events. Noted.
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!