Sweet November

It’s been a while. Again. I thought I would pop in and make my presence known so no one thinks I’ve disappeared or don’t care.

I find myself sitting here and looking at the calendar and it seems crazy that we’re already into the middle of November this week. This time last year I was well into getting excited for Christmas and the holidays. I think, looking back, I was really struggling with having a sense of contentment. I was having a hard time with my work load because I just wasn’t excited or engaged, and yet knew I should be. I was missing family and really excited that my parents were coming (hi parents!) for Christmas, their first visit in about 5 years. I think I just needed something to be looking forward to because I felt like I was just plugging along.

This year though, is very different. It was baking hot here until the middle of last week. I was posting on Facebook later in the week that I had to wear a long sleeved shirt for the first time in a VERY long time and people we’re laughing at me. I know it seems strange when I say that I was chilly and the thermometer still read 80*, but that’s what happens when you’re acclimated! It would probably also help to mention that the last part of last week, and still this week has been regularly overcast. The temps have dropped to the lower 80’s but the most significant change is that the humidity has dropped. Where we were regularly seeing it hover between 75-85%, last week on the coolest day it was down to the high 50’s. That’s a huge change in how the air feels!

Yesterday I was at a local resort exercising in the pool with a friend (some sweet friends blessed her with their passes when they left the country so we get to go for free!!!) and as we walked in there were crunch leaves under our feet that hadn’t been swept up, and the sky was grey, and the air was cool. It felt like fall! And we noticed it and it made us both exhale a bit and be so thankful for that sweet moment. Later, after swimming for about an hour, a breeze started to blow. Just a light one. But, it was enough that I had to keep my wet self under the surface of the water and Olivia’s teeth were literally chattering. I got out to towel off and got excited to see goose bumps on my legs. I don’t think I’ve every had goose bumps on my legs in Haiti! It’s just been such a nice weather treat, especially because last winter didn’t seem to cool off much. The rain stopped, but the temps stayed in the high 80’s and so did the humidity. When it cools off it literally feels like the cogs in our brains start to turn again, things get clearer, we’re more alert, and just function better.

So, as we move through November, I keep feeling grateful that we’re actually getting some kind of fall, and remembering that this is how it usually feels (funny how one year can make a person forget!) and my heart feels really calm right now. Which, when I look at everything going on around me, seems kind of funny.

I am thinking about the holidays, but I don’t feel the need to dive all the way in yet. Last year was really busy once the end of November hit, again, I think because I was searching for some kind of normalcy and wanted to do all the things! This year I just feel like I want to slow down, step back, and enjoy. Chris’ parents are coming for Christmas this year and we’re so excited, and very much looking forward to a relaxed couple of weeks with them. Chris turns 40 at the beginning of December and I’m looking forward to celebrating him with our friends here. We also have some plans for fun things with our staff and our missionary community, but none of it feels pressing or overwhelming.

Perhaps part of it is that things have just gotten busy around here. Rather than just plugging away we’re in full on management mode, which requires more of my time and brain power, and it feels like things are getting accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, things were getting accomplished before, but they had become routine. Chris and I both do really well with managing things. Where I am organized he is logical and methodical. Those things compliment one another so well. Add Peggy to the mix and we now have someone that can come behind us and fill the holes and I can’t tell you how much that helps. Rather than feeling frazzled because I might be forgetting something she’s right there asking about those things and then taking care of them. Such a blessing!

It’s very normal for things to take a couple of months to pick up speed after we get back from our summer vacation. We’re still in the rainy season, so deliveries to some areas can be difficult just because of mud. When September comes people start preparing for school fees and aren’t putting their money anywhere else. For the past few years school has actually started in October, but a week beforehand the government announced an earlier start that had everyone scurrying for things like uniforms and books.

Our filter installations have taken off in the past month and a half. Last month we were up almost 50% from months previous, and here we are mid-month and already at the 100 filter mark as of tomorrows delivery. That feels really good!

Earlier this year we were approached about receiving a Rotary grant for filters and since then have been in discussion and planning with the club in the US and the local club that would host it. We love Rotary and feel really blessed that they approached us. Those conversations stalled out for several reasons over the summer, but in the past 6 weeks have resumed and things are moving forward, and it’s exciting. This week Chris had a meeting here with some of the key local club members, and several members from the US who were in Haiti to discuss the next steps. The grant would mean filters for a lot of families!

We hired 3 new employees in the past two weeks as well. We haven’t hired new staff in a long time, and it feels really good to do so. We really sought our staff input this time around because everything is so communal here. They know the people in the community who have submitted applications, and can give character feedback. A while back they asked to be involved in the process because any time there are issues with an employee it affects everyone, not just us as leaders. The guys we hired came highly recommended by the staff that knew them, and we’re excited they’re part of our team now.

There are some other exciting things going on, and I’m itching to share, but not just yet. I promise I will as soon as I can! In the meantime, please be praying for Chris and I as we manage everything in front of us. Our workload has literally doubled in the past week, so it’s a lot to be thinking about and taking care of, and we just want to do it well.

Until next time,

~Leslie

Getting to Start Over

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the kind. You wake up having an idea of how you plan to use your time and what’s on the “to do” list for the day, but then you hear the record scratch of things taking a completely different direction. The train has basically derailed and you just get to go for the ride.

As I went into the day I had plans to finish taking certain things off my old computer and then cleaning it off so we could use it for other things. One of the things that I really wanted off of it was all my autofill contacts from Outlook. Let me put it this way – five years is a long time to be using autofill and not entering addresses in your contact base. 

Apparently there are ways to transfer the old files to a new Outlook version, but after fighting with it all morning not a single one wanted to work for me. Beyond frustrating. 

After fighting with that for way too long I decided to switch gears. Somewhere in the midst of that stuff the old laptop shut down. I was working unplugged, and it did what it normally does when the battery dies, so I didn’t think anything of it and just plugged it in to charge. A few hours later I went to start it up again and couldn’t get past the Lenovo screen. It just sat there. Chris mucked around with it for a bit then took the hard drive out to put into an external drive and the drive worked fine. I can plug it in to my new computer and see and access everything on it. We decided that it was best to just put the old one a way for a bit. We may try to see if we can get it to boot sometime down the road, but not now. It’s not a priority. It was frustrating because we were excited about having a spare computer that we could use for non-essential things like watching movies.

So, it was one of those days where I felt like I was getting nowhere. Nothing was working. In fact, things were doing quite the opposite. 

It was one of those days where I just had to let go of some stuff because I couldn’t do anything about it.

I wasn’t making headway with importing addresses, so I had to walk away. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out, and maybe I won’t. If we’ve emailed in the last 5 years and you want to hear from me it might be a good idea to send me an email… ;)

Maybe one day we’ll be able to boot the old computer and use it again, but not this week. There are other things to do. 

When Peggy arrived and we were talking about what a typical day looks like here I said, “You know how it is, you can go into a day with a list of things you want to do, but then 5 other things pop up that take priority, because this is Haiti.” 

You don’t get to pick and choose. Just just have to go with it. 

And then you remember that tomorrow is another day.

As I was venting and saying choice words yesterday afternoon just out of sheer frustration Peggy gently reminded me that everything happens when it’s supposed to, if it’s supposed to. Yes, so true. 

Tomorrow is another day, and each day has enough trouble of its own. But, even with trouble, we get to wake up each day and start over. 

Whatever bogged me down yesterday, doesn’t have to bog me down today. I’m not saying that there won’t be stuff that I have to continue to deal with, but rather that sometimes having a night of rest and fresh perspective helps me to see things through different eyes.

Is it annoying that I now have to rebuild my contacts one by one. Yep. But, not the end of the world. 

Is it annoying that the old laptop doesn’t want to work right now. Yep. But, we can’t and don’t want to do anything about it right now. 

When I woke up this morning I tried to come into the day with a fresh start in mind. I have a list, I’m crossing things off. Something that I was thinking was going to take a few more days is now done. Other things, I’m doing what I can but I can only do so much when I’m waiting on others to do their part. And the rest? It’ll happen when it happens. 

I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned since moving to Haiti is what flexibility really looks like. 

Flexibility isn’t adjusting your calendar when you have all the options to do so. Flexibility is rolling with things when you have zero choice in the matter, and trying to do what you can, then leave the rest. It’s seeing the advantages in the situation when it seems like none are there. It means learning what you can and being grateful. 

What am I grateful for?

I’m grateful that we took the steps to get me a new computer when we did. Like I said a couple posts ago, there was no crisis this time, so it felt weird. And, here we are two weeks later with the crisis completely avoided. I feel really grateful for that! Aside from a few bumps, it’s no big deal. I had already done all the work for the most part, it was just a couple little things that we can do without. 

I’m grateful for my husband and the fact that we balance each other out and carry the load when the other is having a hard time. When I was having a minor meltdown yesterday he just went to work on what he could do, and let me feel frustrated. No telling me to suck it up, and lots of sharing in the frustration where he could. 

I’m thankful for Peggy, who gently spoke words of wisdom, encouraged, and then helped Olivia with her homework when I was trying to get dinner ready so I didn’t feel burned out. Such a sweet blessing. 

I’m thankful for a comfy bed and good rest. For many years I’ve struggled with back and joint pain that would leave me feeling exhausted in the morning and it’s dissipated a lot in the last year. I sleep more soundly now than I have since we started our family, which I think is mostly because there are a lot of nights where neither kid is waking up anymore. Being able to sleep through the night…priceless!

I’m grateful for coffee. Not in the “I need it to give me a jolt” kind of way, but in the way where I fully appreciate the work that goes into it. Yonese buys our coffee green in the market, then hand sorts it and roasts it. The smell of freshly roasted coffee is amazing. Getting to drink her coffee every morning is such a gift. We. Are. Spoiled. I also have a fun wood plate on my counter that holds shakers or cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice mix, yummy Coffee mate from Chris’ Mum, and a couple bottles of homemade flavor syrup. With my microwave and a cheap $10 battery operated milk frother I get to have lattes every morning. It’s my special little thing. My morning treat. And after almost 9 years of being here I savor it not only for the deliciousness, but also for the little bit of normality it brings.

I hope that if this finds you struggling today that it might be a reminder that tomorrow is a new day. You can wake up and start all over tomorrow. And, you might be able to see things more clearly or differently. And, maybe things will still be just as hard, or harder tomorrow. But, at some point they will get better. Keep moving forward. Tomorrow is coming.

~Leslie

God Only Knows

I’ll be the first to admit that I can be one cranky bear, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed or just “off”. Typically it’s triggered by tiredness or something like that. Ahem, 91 and your humid friend, I see you both lurking there in the corner…

I’m a huge advocate for doing what you love, because I believe that God has created us, and that he’s made each of us with unique gifts and skills and that it brings him great happiness to see those things that he’s planted in us being used in many ways. Helping people. Loving others. Creating things. I could go on. I think you get my drift.

Coming from that place it’s hysterical to me that I’m sometimes the last to figure some of this stuff out in regards to myself. I can have conversations with friends and family and point out things in them and encourage them to run with it, knowing it’ll be an amazing thing, and yet I can have all those things in front of me and have a hard time putting the pieces together. 

Or, maybe it’s not that I can’t always see them, but that I can see those pieces and just feel like I can’t do anything about it.

That’s where I’ve been sitting for the last few years. I know I’ve talked about this in some detail in the past few months, but it’s a process and I’m processing right now, so this is what you get.

Here’s the thing. I think that I’ve always been a creative. A person who needs to be making and dreaming and doing. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized little quirky things about myself that I now see are all glaring indications that I’m a creative type, but I’ve just dismissed them as quirks and never put them in the context that I’m putting them in now. Things like loving texture and always having to touch things. Looking at scenery and getting more excited about the way a sun beam is shining down than about the whole scene. Collecting stationary, not because I actually want to use it but because I love the feel of it and the graphics and all the things. Being a mixed bag when it comes to narrowing down any kind of “style” because one minute I love things that are bright and bold and the next I want wood grain and rusty metal. I’m the one that has sun patterned floor tiles at my husband’s suggestion – but am totally fine with it for this house – and baby blue cupboards. I’m not afraid of color. 

And I’ve been stuck at a desk doing admin work for the past, well, my whole working life pretty much. 

I remember the day a few months ago as I was processing through Peggy arriving on staff (which is tomorrow, by the way, and IT’S TOMORROW!) and what that would mean for things here going forward. As I was thinking about it, it was like scales were peeled off my eyes and all of the sudden I saw it. 

I saw all the pieces of this giant puzzle that is me come together and I finally stepped back to see the bigger picture. All these needs that the mission had, it was me  that was supposed to fill them. Until we had Peggy lined up I wasn’t in a place to even think it was possible. I had been creeping in that direction and loved it, but never thought it would be me.

And now, fast forward a few months, and I’m sitting here settling into this new phase and it feels like coming alive. I didn’t realize how much I’d stagnated in the past few years. It’s not that I wasn’t doing something good, because I was. I was doing a lot of really good things for the mission that needed to be done and I needed to be the one to do them. It was just time to step forward and bring all of these pieces together for something more.

You see, as long as I can think back in my adult life I’ve been hovering around things like graphic design and photography and visual arts in general, as well as writing. I know what I like. I have visions for end products, but haven’t had the time or the tools to do any of it. Programs were too expensive. I couldn’t take time away from a “real” job to go to school for specific training. I like to write, and do it as a side gig here on the blog. I just wasn’t in a position to pursue any of it in any seriousness. And, I’ll admit it, there has been a part of me that has thought some of that was frivolous because I had all this “important” work to do. 

But now here I am. 

This past January I got my new to me camera, and while not every picture is amazing (talk to any photographer and they’ll tell you this is actually the norm) there are many times where I load stuff into my computer and I get giddy because some of my stuff is good. I’m proud of it. And I realize I might actually be able to do this. 

As we transition Peggy to taking over a lot of the admin stuff my desk has been cleared of so many of the mundane tasks I’ve been bogged down with and in the past two weeks I’ve been pouring over things like learning Photoshop and everything that goes with it.

And you know what? I love it

I am absolutely in my element. Chris keeps finding me at my desk working through tutorials and watching videos and playing around. He keeps commenting on my dedication to wanting to learn all of this because we both know that it’s going to lead to a giant step forward for the mission in everything from our print materials (already been working on these over the past couple years) to our website to video and social media – all major needs. 

The thing is, I find myself thinking, “I’ve gotten through everything else. Now I get to go play with Photoshop. I get to do…” And I have to be honest with him about the fact that it doesn’t feel like work. That I’m excited to get at it and pour over it for hours on end. I’m giddy about it because it’s unlocked this world for me that I’ve been hovering on the outside of for so long. It’s bringing all these parts of myself together. 

I think a big part of not exploring some of this stuff sooner was just plain fear. It all seemed so complicated and overwhelming. I could never figure all of that out. But, I can, and I am. And it feels amazing. It’s amazing because in the process of engaging my brain, my spirit is coming alive. This is part of who God has made me to be, and he loves that I’m figuring it out. He loves that this creativity that he’s planted in me is being woken up and that I can use that to love his people. I can use the love of beautiful things and communicating that to people to honor him. 

Does it get any better than that?

And, why did it take me so long to get here.

Well, I actually know the answer to that. It just wasn’t time. I needed to be doing other things, good thing, before this so that when it was time to be here I could see God’s hand in the whole plan and I could more deeply appreciate arriving here. And I do. It’s so beautiful and I love how he orchestrates things. Bringing details together to make something even better. 

God hears the whispers and hopes of our hearts. He feels our groanings when we know we’re in process. All those years of being crabby and overwhelmed were my spirit saying, “This isn’t it. I’m here, and I’m doing it, but this isn’t it.” The process has allowed me the time to learn more about who I am, and it’s allowed Chris the time to learn who I am and what I need. He sees how happy I’ve been in the past few weeks and he loves it. He just keeps telling me how happy he is to see me so engaged and excited. My brain has been in high gear again. It feels amazing.

I share all this with you because I know we all go through periods where we get stuck and it feels like we’re slugging through mud. I want to encourage you, keep slugging. It’s especially hard when you know that there’s nothing bad about the place you’re in. Even harder when you know what you’re doing has a lot of value to it. God wants to take each of us to the place where we can fully be the people he’s created us to be. He hears the small whispers of our hearts, wanting something more, even if we don’t know we’ve whispered them. He cares about those things. 

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I’ve lost track of how often God has provided for those small whispers. Things that I never utter out loud to another human soul. And it’s always so humbling when he does provide and I see it. I feel so cared for. Sometimes the reason things never get spoken is because they feel silly or frivolous, but he cares. 

Olivia Faces-1

I’m learning to own this new phase and that’s hard at times, but in other ways it feels like coming into my own. 

It’s hard to wake up in the morning and change my internal conversation and to remind myself that what I considered “fun” and things to do when all my other work was done, now get to be my work. Daily I’m having to remind myself that this is what it’s going to look like going forward. That’s not to say that I won’t have other admin stuff do, I will. It’s just that this is going to be what I get to do for work! Seriously?!? 

 

This summer when we were at my parents house, one of the first things my dad said to me within hours of arriving at their house was, “So kid, when are you going to write a book?” And for the first time I actually said, out loud, “I really want to, I just know that while the kids are small I just don’t have the time, but I really want to one day.” And then I realized that I had just owned that for the first time.

It’s not just that I want to write, I need to. It’s part of me. It’s not just that I want to take pictures, I need to. It’s part of me. It’s not just that I want to do visual design work, I need to. It’s part of me. All of it is how I see the world and how I communicate and I’m finally in a place where I know I can own that.

I have a huge learning curve ahead. A lot of work ahead of me. But, it’s so exciting and freeing to be in a place where I finally have the tools and the time and the opportunity to explore than in depth. 

Chikungunya – 4, Rollings – 0, And We’re Thrilled!

That’s right folks, the Chicken fever has taken down all of us!

Why on earth would we be so happy about that?

Well, because we’ve been holding our breath this week waiting for Alex to get it. I mean, this kid is outside every day in the work yard with the guys. One of our guards had it, another worker had it, family members of workers had it. If anyone was going to get it in our family, it would be Alex. And yet, he wasn’t going down…

Yesterday as we drove to visit friends Chris and I were talking about how thankful we were that this thing has run through our home in such a mild way. Olivia had the typical case – fever, aches and rash all in that order. But, a couple days later she was up and around again. Chris and I have each basically bypassed the fever, had fairly minor aches and just mostly felt tired. I hardly had any rash to speak of and Chris still has some, but it hasn’t been terrible. The worst of it for me was two nights ago when an aching leg was really uncomfortable and it made it hard to sleep. Since then we’ve both just been taking it easy and resting when needed, but going about our day mostly normally.

In the course of our conversation we wondered about all things viral and if our bodies have maybe, because of past viruses, had some sort of resistance. A major study would need to happen to verify anything like that, and we have zero scientific experience so really it was one of those “I wonder if…” conversations.

As we chatted we kept wondering why Alex hadn’t gone down yet. And then the pieces came together…

A couple weeks ago both kids had boils (yes, lovely sharing time we’re having here…) It was weird that they both got them at the same time, but it’s Haiti and all it takes is an open pore and some nasty water or sweat, so we just dealt with it by giving them both a run of antibiotics. Olivia was better in about 48 hours, Alex took a couple more days. Just after his cleared up he got another one on his leg, and this time it was much worse than the previous one. We started the antibiotics again.

A day or so into the antibiotics Alex was really tired, feverish and just cranky. It lasted about a day. Chris, Yonese and I all chalked it up to the infection in his leg and his little body trying to fight it off. About the same time he would randomly complain about his limbs hurting. In all honesty we dismissed it because he’s been doing this thing where when he gets in trouble he starts telling us about all his body parts that are hurting. In the time out chair for a couple minutes we’ll hear, “My head hurts, my arm hurts, my leg hurts…” The complaints about hurting limbs would be mentioned once and then it was a different body part. And the whole time he was up and playing.

Because this has been going on for the last couple of months his complaints about a constant headache during the same time had me baffled. Was it real? When I asked him where exactly it hurt he would point to the same place. I literally told Chris at one point that I was wondering if we should talk to a doctor friend because I didn’t want to be one of those parents that missed all the signs of their kid having a brain tumor or some major thing like that. Then, the next day the complaints were gone and things were fine.

A day or so after the on and off fever and fatigue there was a bit of rash on random parts of Alex’s body, but in areas like his arms close to his elbows and parts of his back. It didn’t last for more than a day, and last summer he battled heat rash for several months which is the reason he still doesn’t wear more than a diaper on most days. This boy can sweat! We just assumed it was spots of heat rash because things had been warming up again after a nice couple weeks of cool weather.

So, if you’re tracking with me we’ve had fever, fatigue, bone aches, headache, rash and crankiness – and we missed it because we were so concerned about the brutal abscesses on his arm and leg. We missed the symptoms because they matched up to something else that was already going on in his little body.

The Chikun got us all, just not in the order that we thought! I can’t tell you how relieved we are to know that we won’t be facing this stuff as we’re getting ready to hop on a plane. Wahoo! I feel like a quiet stress that’s been hanging in the air, the waiting and wondering has been lifted off of us.

Thank you SO much for all of your prayers and well wishes in the past week. I know this could have hit our home so much harder than it has and we’re grateful that we’ve only had mild cases with all the stuff that’s going on this week.

Please continue to pray for Haiti. Aside from the things I requested prayer for last time, pray that people are given the opportunity to truly be educated about their bodies and how things like this virus spread. I had a really interesting conversation with one of our employees this past week about whether or not the virus was dropped on Haiti for scientific or political reasons. There are a lot of people talking about things like this right now. We had a great chat about natural disasters, like the earthquake, and natural transmission of illnesses like this. Coming from the first world we can so easily take basic education that we receive even as children about how the earth functions and medical things for granted, and it can be easy to forget that many in the world don’t have that same starting place. When you don’t have that basic education, or very little access to it, and lots of natural disasters and epidemics it can be easy to start wondering if there’s some sort of conspiracy going on. Pray that people’s hearts and minds will be opened to hearing the truth of how illnesses like Chikungunya are transmitted and can then learn how to care for and protect themselves, and that those educational opportunities will be available.

Grateful from Haiti,

Leslie

Scary Good

Do you ever have those moments where you have a realization that you’re stepping deep into something new, and you might be kind of terrified, but in a good way? That feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing, or how to do it, you just know that it’s going to get done?

I’ve been coming to that realization over the past few days. In hindsight I can see that it’s something that’s been brewing in me for a while. Maybe years even, but it’s just now that the pieces come together. I love how God is so patient as we go through this slow process of seeing things in ourselves – things he’s planted there that he wants to use for his purposes, but things that we might not be ready to face yet.

In this post I shared a bit about this lovely lady joining our staff in August:

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You guys, there are so many moments these days where I find myself thinking things like, “This is the second to last time I have to do this before Peggy comes!” I’m so excited that Peggy will be part of our staff because I already love her. She’s a complete sweetheart with a giant heart, and I think she’s going to add so much to our team. I’m also excited because I’m realizing that those thoughts are coming from a place of me outgrowing the place God first put me in when he brought me to Haiti, and that in that process, in his perfect timing, he’s filled that hole to enable me to move into new groanings.

I know the word “groanings” might seem like a strange choice, but isn’t that what it is? When we truly look back on the process of God taking us from one thing to the next we can see times where our very being was groaning.

Maybe it’s a frustration with something.

Maybe it’s wishing that someone, anyone, could fill a particular need that we see.

Maybe it’s just recognizing that we are in need.

It’s those internal conversations we have. It’s the waning of energy or enthusiasm for something that we previously had excitement for or were enthusiastic about. It’s the questioning if something is wrong with us because we no longer get excited about those things. Is there something wrong with me? Am I not wanting to serve any more? I thought this was where I was supposed to be…

When I was going through the process of realizing God was calling me into missions, something I thought I would never do, there was so much groaning. Two years of groaning. Lots of “Yes, but…” conversations in my heart and head. And yet, when I finally said, “Okay God, I’m jumping in,” the peace was overwhelming and I can look back and see that all those groanings were part of the process. It was me coming to terms with the change in direction, the change in calling, the change of heart. Deep down my heart was yearning for something more, and the rest of me had to come on board.

As we get closer to Peggy’s arrival I feel like my eyes are being opened to the groanings that I didn’t know were actually that. In so many ways I see now that my very core has been yearning for something different, and that it was God working in me to show me that it was time to start focusing on something different than what I have been. There are reasons why what used to get me excited and what challenged me no longer does. I’ve outgrown those things.

When I first started with the mission I got excited about taking on big projects like revamping or designing something that would help our programs. I still love that aspect of things, but I haven’t needed to do much of that in the last few years. We’ve got some well running things in place, and while there might be tweaks here and there, nothing has needed to be completely revamped or started fresh. I’ve wondered why I feel like a bunch of my work is boring and hard slogging. In reality, it hasn’t been challenging or new for me. And that’s not a bad thing.

There have been times where a frustration, even in circumstances with the best of intentions, have pushed me to be more active. For many years we had people back home get graphic designers to volunteer their time in designing promotional materials for the mission. In every situation, while we appreciated the time and effort, something was just not hitting where we wanted or needed it to hit. I realized it was because Chris and I have very strong feelings about how we represent the people of Haiti and the work we do as an organization. Trying to communicate our vision and reasons over email and going back and forth about details is hard. Deep down I knew I could design our materials to send the message that we strive to communicate, so I did the work. I learned a program and now whenever we need new materials I can pull those together and get them done in a way that pulls everything together and consistently represents what we do.

And you know what? I love doing it.

I can literally spend days pouring over every detail of a brochure. A nudge here. A shrink there. It fuels a level of creativity in me that God has put there.

I love to write. That’s why we have this little blog here. And apparently you enjoy reading it because, well, you’re reading it! I like the opportunity to take all those things rolling around in my head and heart, and to put them out there. Most of the time I write because I just need to process what’s going on for me. The fact that others can read it and get something out of it too is just a bonus. Sometimes I realize I can be a voice in a situation that maybe wouldn’t otherwise get shared. Being in the mission field in a country like Haiti and having that opportunity is not something I take lightly. It’s something that weighs heavy on me. How do I share things in a way that respect and honor the people we’re called to serve? If any of them read what I write, how would they feel? Sometimes it means pushing my feelings and opinions aside and choosing not to share certain things, even though it might make a great story.

My heart has been groaning in the past few years over words. Wanting to write more, but feeling that there isn’t the time or head space. I think there are writers who like the idea of it, and do it, and then there are those who need to do it to release certain things. I’m learning there are definite times where I fall into the later category.

I love taking pictures. This past weekend I had the chance to do something that has been so much more than what I thought it would be. It kind of has me reeling.

Some friends here are running a beading project, which was started to help some local families earn money to cover their rent. The beaders roll paper beads, then the ladies running the project bead them into a variety of items. They’re in the process of ramping things up and trying to develop their website and sales portal. They asked if I would be willing to take some product shots for them for the website. I thought it would be fun, and felt honored that they’d asked. I’ve been playing around with my camera that I got in January and have had fun with it at get togethers and have just shared those pictures with friends here.

I wanted to do this for them, knowing how much good pictures can draw people in, especially when you’re trying to sell something that will have a greater impact. I had some ideas, and on Saturday as we were at a local resort for a ladies day, we took about an hour and did the pictures.

You guys, this was SO fun for me! And eye opening.

We had spent a bit of time talking about ideas, so I had some things rolling around in my head. The picture taking was fun, but taking it from that through the editing to end product made me see that I could take that idea or vision in my head, and make it a reality. When I showed our friend Maggie the early edits she said, “I want to buy all of this stuff, and I make it!!!”

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A sneak peek! To learn more about Mowi Beads go to www.mowibeads.com. New pictures coming soon!

I’ve always had a love of photography. I literally had an entire Rubbermaid container of pictures in storage at my parents house from just my teen years. No exaggeration. The hang up for me was getting the ideas in my head to become reality. I can read and read and read, but technical stuff like users manuals doesn’t sink in. I’m a hands on learner. I need to hear and see and touch to fully comprehend something. I need to be able to talk through things with someone to pull it all together in my brain. My frustration with photography was the technical side – how to get from shooting in basic automatic, to manual where there’s much more creative control.

This weekend it came together, and this week because my work load has been lightened up I’ve had the time to be pouring over online photography lessons and practicing with my camera. And it’s exciting!

I feel like something has unlocked in my brain and heart. I can actually do this.

It’s gotten me thinking about all those groanings. What was it about the work that I was initially doing for the mission that left me feeling fulfilled and excited, and what’s changed about that since?

It’s the creativity.

When I was first here, no one else could do it. Chris didn’t think on that level. We could talk about a problem and he would say, “I have no idea what to do with this,” and I would find myself already running ahead designing a program or system or form to make it work. This is why we’re a good team.

Since then, those systems have continued to work well for us, with tweaking here and there. The work involved now is maintenance for me. It’s not creative, but routine. There isn’t much new involved. Yet it takes up my time. So much time that the other things that I see as issues and frustrations get put on the back burner. Over the years I’ve found myself slugging through things because there is nothing new under the sun. I loathe certain jobs because to me they feel mundane, yet they fall onto my desk because they’re admin related. I get frustrated with some of those things hovering in the background because I see the need, but there hasn’t been someone to fill that need over the long term. I have ideas and plans, but haven’t had the time to implement them or to learn how to do something. We kind of keep hobbling along when I know it could be so much more, if only we had the right person to take it on.

Just yesterday it all came together for me.

I am that person.

I’m the person that will be filling that need. Not because there is no other solution, but because that’s the best solution. It’s the solution that God has been pushing us towards for a long time. That he’s been putting pieces in place to prepare us for, for a long time. I just didn’t see it.

Track with me here.

Those groanings have purpose. They are the process of God showing us that what we are in is not where we’re meant to stay. When we move to that next place it’s fulfilling and we feel we’re making great contributions, that our gifts and skills are being used. When we outgrow those things they are hard to get excited about. It’s not that we don’t see the need or want to help, we just don’t feel as enthusiastic about it as we once did. This has been me to a “t” for the last couple of years. I knew it needed to be done and I was it, so I’ve been doing it, but I haven’t been really excited about any of it for a while. It’s shown in my attitude and enthusiasm. I haven’t been great in the “joy” department, if you get my drift. But, I’ve needed to go through this process so I could see the next step, to fully appreciate God’s timing and his preparation. I’ve also needed to go through it so I would be able to fully release some of the control over these things.

When Peggy joins our staff she’ll be taking over the things that have become the day to day “maintenance” type jobs I do. Not because I hate them, but because my time needs to be focused on other projects that are big needs for the mission. In the past, handing over any of these tasks has been hard for me. Sometimes it’s been because I know I’m just going to have to take it back in a few months. At other times it’s because I wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t lead to more work for me in the long run between the training and follow up.

In the past couple of months as we’ve started moving towards Peggy’s arrival I’ve been really thinking about what this will be like for me personally. It’s a lot of transition to go from my entire work day looking like one thing to it looking like something completely different that we’ve never done before. It’s kind of scary. Scary good. 

I have never had someone specifically here to help me. This means I need to be intentional about figuring out what tasks and jobs to hand off. I need to be okay giving direction in this area. Kind of scary. Scary good.

I need to think about what other things I haven’t been able to do and would like to. How do I arrange my day going forward? If I don’t need to be sitting in front of my computer doing accounting or general admin stuff, what does that look like? I literally need to revamp my entire definition of “work”. A lot of scary. Scary good.

What if I can actually be creative in my work again? What if that creativity can meet other needs for the mission? What if pouring over website design, rather than accounting is exactly what God has in mind now? What if spending days, weeks, months, years learning my camera means that you can see more of what we do? That you’ll engage more and know better what the needs are? What if it’s a way of sharing a different side of Haiti and her people than what typically gets seen in promoting support for aid organizations? What if having more time to write means I might be able to say things that others aren’t, things that challenge or get conversation started?

Realizing that I’m the person that God has had in mind all this time to fill these needs is scary. I’ve been looking for other sources. Someone back home that can do the web design and maintenance to relieve our board member that’s doing it right now so he can do other things for the organization. Someone else that could take beautiful images of what we do. Thoughts of “I wish…”

But then I do this…

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And this…

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And the pieces fall together that I’m that person. That God has stirred up those groanings in me with a purpose – because it was me all along that he wanted for this. To serve the mission this way. I needed to get unsettled and frustrated so I would be completely ready to hand things over when he brought the right person along. I needed to feel that I needed something more, because I do. I need to feel more because he’s put things inside of me that I’m not fully using, that are wanting out and wanting to be used so he can do more with this whole ministry he’s called us to.

I needed to come to terms with the fact that I am a creative person who needs to have that be part of my every day work, not just for things like crafts. In the past I’ve compartmentalized it. It’s something I do, not something I am. I have thought I had to put it aside or put it away to do my “real” work. And yet, as I step back I realize so clearly that when the opportunity for creativity isn’t there I push and shove against it and I’m pretty darn cranky. I wonder why my brain tells me I have to do one thing while my heart and everything in my being is wanting to go another direction. Realizing all this I kind of feel like this giant light bulb has gone off above my head.

In the past I’ve been happiest when my work has a balance of creativity and me using my gifts and skills in the areas of administration and leadership to work towards something bigger than myself. Until today I’ve identified myself as an administrative person, but I’m realizing that’s not who I am. I’m actually a creative person with high administrative skills. The administrative skills are a means to an end for me, not the thing I LOVE to do. They’re a tool for taking a vision and making it reality, whether it’s figuring out how to plan and coordinate a conference for 600 students, or designing brochures. There is administration involved in both of those things, but there is also a high level of creativity. It’s the creativity and challenge that I crave, that keeps me engaged and excited.

Being able to use all of it in ministry is when I feel the most fulfilled and in my “sweet spot”, and doesn’t God want all of us in that sweet spot where we can see more clearly the people that he’s created each of us to be? He’s put all of these things in us, don’t you think it makes him so happy when we realize that and want to use those things for him? Sigh.

You know what is great about connecting with those groanings? It’s that when you do, and you see the pieces coming together, what you thought might be hard often isn’t. I know that going into this whole new stage with Peggy being here is going to mean a lot of transition for not just me, but also Chris. I’m not the only one that needs to rewrite my definition of work. As I’ve been mulling this over I was wondering what the conversation was going to be like when I told him what’s been rolling around in my head and heart. In the past it’s come out as frustration, thinking that I needed to do more of one thing and less of something else, of blaming anything and everything for why I was frustrated and unhappy. Oh, the groaning. His response when I shared all of this? “There’s so much to be said for loving your work.” He knows. He’s been on the receiving end of the frustration and me pushing against and around. He’s been here for the tears and the confusion, and I think maybe there was some sweet relief to hear my words, “I’m excited to see what it feels like to be happy doing what I do again.”

Funny how we can learn the same lessons over and over in life, isn’t it?

This is all so exciting to me. And scary. Scary good. 

As a fellow missionary here in Haiti regularly says, “We’re going to do it afraid!”

~Leslie

 

Supporting Missions Well: The Changing Definition of “Helping”

I’m continuing on this week with a few more posts in the series of how to support missions well. The whole hope of these posts is to open the door for conversation. Or, even just to get us all thinking about what missions looks like today, no matter whether you fall on the side of being the missionary in the field, or whether you’re a supporter of missions in general or a specific missionary or missionary family.

In the past week we’ve looked at Calling, Grief and Defining Home, Raising Support and “Going”, Being A Good Support, Care and Expectations and Where the Money Goes.

Today we’re going to take a little side trip and talk about the actual “mission” part of things.

For many of us, our whole purpose of being involved in missions in any way, whether we’re the ones “going” or we’re the ones “sending” is that we want to help people. We want to help with physical needs. We want to help with emotional needs. We want to help with spiritual needs.

What happens though when our definition of “helping” and what is really most helpful when we get into the field aren’t the same things?

What if our definition of “helping” can actually lead to doing long term damage to those we’ve intended to serve?

How do we process through those things and adjust our sails?

I think if you took the time to ask a missionary if their definition of helping has changed since they’ve gone into the field, especially those who have served for several years, you would get “yes” as an answer. At some point most of us have had to come face to face with what we perceived as helpful and realize that maybe we needed to change our definition a bit. Or, a lot.

Coming from North America, or any developed country (I’ve gotten to meet a variety of people from various places in Europe who have shared the same insights) it is natural to think that we have the “right” way of doing things, that our methodology is supreme and that we can find solutions to the worlds problems. We have access to so much, at any time that we want it, so we expect solutions to come quickly and problems to be resolved in a short period of time if we only provide the resources. Generally speaking we live in material wealth, whether it’s personally, or as a nation. We might believe that our form of government should be modeled and that the social resources we have should be the norm world wide. Think schools, medical facilities, government resources, etc. Coming from the Church perspective, it’s normal for us to think that we have things figured out and that our methods of evangelism and teaching are spot on.

Coming from this mindset, with so much of it being deeply ingrained to the point that we aren’t even aware of it, can cause a huge culture shock when a missionary starts working in the field. Time and time again I’ve personally been challenged through my experiences here in Haiti to step back and reassess what I’ve believe to be the “right” way, and admit that maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought or that there was maybe a different way of doing things.

I’m going to share a bunch of Haiti specific examples here, but I’m hoping that you’ll understand that on a general level you could change the country and the characters and closely substitute context and probably end up in a similar place if talking to missionaries serving in other parts of the world.

Here we go!

My home culture in Canada has taught me that there are systems and order to doing things like applying for documents and taking care of business. Because those systems are in place things are very “service oriented” whereby I can go in to a particular office, stand in line and when it’s my turn, expect to receive a certain level of service from the person helping me. If I don’t believe that I’ve received that level of service, there is a manager or superior that I can file a complaint with. If it’s a transaction where the goods that I purchased are not up to par, broken or in the end just aren’t what I want, I can return them for a refund. Basically, this whole cultural system exists on a basis of providing service. In Haiti, it’s been a very slow process and one that is still developing to receive customer service. In many cases, simply expecting to be treated a certain way or that one will receive a certain level of customer satisfaction is pretty much where it stops, and can actually cause problems because it changes the way we go into and interact in any given situation. Customer service places me in the position of expecting respect and assistance.

In Haiti everything is relational. Coming from a culture where customer service is an expectation paired with the access to anything I want at almost any time of the day gives me the false sense of importance. Time and time again I’ve rushed into situations, whether it’s running errands, or asking for help. And time and time again I’ve had reminders that there is a different process here and unless I’m willing to step back from what I know and readjust, I’m not going to accomplish much.

In almost any given situation there is a social protocol to follow. You go into the situation and greet everyone there. This may involve just saying hello, but in many cases means shaking hands and cheek kissing when necessary. Then you ask how people are doing. If you haven’t seen them in a while you ask how their family are doing. Not doing so is rude. You chat for a few minutes, or 15, before you get around to talking about any business. This might be a bit different if you’re just going into a store situation where you’re buying goods. If you’re in a store and need help, being demanding on any level here – no matter how justified – will probably see fewer results than if you take a few minutes to be polite and kind and act like the person helping you is doing you a great favor by giving you their time. Even after all these years I sometimes forget to account for the social time when running errands, while at other times I plan for it because I want to make sure I have a few minutes to chat with the cashier at the grocery store.

One time I was getting ready to leave a touristy spot that had a nursery/bakery on site, and since we had arrived really early they had put out new items since I got there, and I ran in to quickly ask about a plant I saw in the window. I ran in , asked the man at the counter what it was and how much. You know what he did? He smiled a big smile and said, “Good morning madame, how are you?” I didn’t hear him clearly because I was so focused on the plant and my questions, but he graciously made eye contact with me, and again asked me how I was doing. I stopped dead in my tracks, exhaled and apologized for my hurry and took a moment to chat with him. In the end I got all of the information I wanted, but I was reminded that I wasn’t in Canada and that I needed to take those few seconds to be social.

You might wonder what this has to do with a changing definition of “helping”. It has everything to do with it. If we don’t take the time to recognize what is important in the culture that we’re there to serve, we will only get so far before doors and opportunities close in front of us. If we don’t take the time to be socially gracious where expected it might mean a government official choosing not to help us, even if that is their job. It might mean that one person feeling offended cut a whole group of people off from receiving the assistance they need. That said, we always have to weigh social custom with what is right and ethical. If it’s a situation of ethics, we might have to find another way to accomplish something.

Coming from a culture of material wealth where we have the funding to “fix” almost every problem if we chose to can lead to expectations in another country. Haiti has been a huge recipient of aid over the years, and a large percentage of it has done a lot of damage. It’s been given with the expectations that money and stuff can fix a problem that might have very deep roots. Bringing in bags of shoes for kids that seem to not have shoes might only put a band-aid on a much bigger problem. Why can’t their parents afford to buy them shoes in the first place? Is it more effective to meet what seems like an immediate need, when maybe focusing on the bigger issue of employment would be a better solution and a better investment of funding? What if there isn’t a cultural expectation that kids wear shoes every second of the day in the first place? If I look at that little boy with no shoes, am I seeing a problem or am I seeing a problem that would be a problem in my own culture because kids are expected to wear shoes every second of the day outside their home. We see that as a sign of being provided for. What if the very act of bringing in gifts of shoes cuts hurts the economic cycle because there are people selling shoes in the market that are reliant on those sales to feed their own children.

The greater issue here is being able to step back and admit that our limited understanding is just that – limited. What we see on the surface might only be a snapshot of the greater picture. Going back to the shoe example (and please know it’s just an example and not me pointing at anyone or any organization in particular) maybe the child does have shoes, but they’re saved for going to school, church and other more special things. Mom doesn’t want him to ruin them by running down to the river to get water and potentially getting them muddy or wet in the same way that I would put aside certain clothes or shoes for my kids.

The bottom line is that unless we spend time in a culture and are intentional about learning, we will only ever be able to see the surface and that surface picture will limit our idea of what “helping” should look like. If you talk to any long term missionary in Haiti and ask them what they know now that they didn’t know when they first arrived most will probably say that they know less now that they did when they first arrived. You see, we’ve all learned what we thought we knew, and can now admit that maybe we didn’t know as much as we thought we did in the first place. Cultures are very different, and what might work at home probably won’t work in the field.

I’m sharing this so that you can work at having reasonable expectations of what you think a missionary or organization should accomplish. Do you know that many organizations feel that they’re under a lot of pressure to provide results so they don’t lose donors, even when they know that a slower pace would be better for everyone involved?

Think about that for a second.

An organization that feels they need to provide some sort of measurable results to their donors may be doing more damage than good. It might look like any one of these things, or none of them:

  • A visitor comes to the mission on a missions trip and feels a special burden, so they go home and contact the organization about making a donation to start a specific project. What if that project doesn’t really line up with the overall mission purpose? What if the logistics of starting that project cause more financial strain on the organization? What if the very project causes more dependence on the organization when the organization is diligently working to create independence?
  • Donors may expect that simply giving means a problem can be solved quickly. If it’s a case of buying a certain piece of equipment that may be the case, but then again maybe that item isn’t in stock and it needs to be shipped in or it involves doing a lot of leg work to have it delivered, installed, etc. Maybe implementing a program means going very slowly so that the right people who can take on leadership roles can be located and trained, and that relationships can be properly built within the community or group that will benefit.
  • What about community involvement? While it might feel like we can offer all kinds of solutions and answers, sometimes the main reason that assistance doesn’t solve a problem is because the community or those directly involved don’t have any investment in the solution. Maybe they feel like what is important to the organization isn’t what is really important to them. Maybe they feel like they’re having a technology forced on them when they would really have a much simpler option that they’re familiar with. Maybe the solution doesn’t line up with cultural values. Maybe by not having direct investment in the solution, the community doesn’t feel any sense of obligation to maintain it or actually use it, wasting donor funding. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen community projects abandoned because of all these reasons.
  • Perhaps the solution to the perceived problem really isn’t the best option for that situation. While there are a variety of water treatment solutions and options, they aren’t all the best option for Haiti. Maybe they’re a good solution for other countries, but we need to work in a case by case basis in these situations. Does it require resources like power that might be irregular or limited? What about maintenance? Can a person with limited education understand how to use and look after this particular thing? Do they have ongoing expenses for replacement parts in order to continue using this item? Where do they get these consumables? What about user friendliness? Will it actually provide what they need in a way that will make them want to continue using it, or will it just be frustrating so they feel like it’s not worth their time or it’s more work than other options?

Most of the frustrations that we as missionaries encounter (and I think aid and development workers in general) stem from trying to push developed nation ideas and ideals into and onto situations that aren’t at the same level. The cultural differences are too vast. The resources and infrastructure aren’t there. Maybe it’s just not the right solution for that particular setting. We all have to recognize that we’re coming from the outside and we need to place ourselves in the position of the learner.

Chris and I have been here in Haiti for 12 and 8 years respectively. We are still daily required to place ourselves in the position of the learner because there is so much we don’t know. It’s not that we don’t have good ideas and good intentions, it’s they might not be the best solutions for Haiti for any variety of reasons. Maybe it goes against culture. Maybe there needs to be education done before the people we’re serving are ready for that particular part. Maybe it’s simply that people need to be involved in helping get to the solution rather than us being the bull in the china shop and telling them what they need. Just last Friday we gave our staff homework to do over the weekend where they had to answer a few questions about what they think we could do better at the mission, what they think are good things and how they think we could save some money. We did it because we know they can offer a lot of insight and because we want them to take ownership of this whole thing by being invested in it. We’ve done things like this in the past and time and time again we’re reminded that what we think might be a priority, isn’t even on the radar. And, the things that they do bring up are things we might never have thought of.

Whatever we’re doing, and however we’re involved, we need to consider how we define “helping” and be willing to ask ourselves some hard questions.

Is this something that I think I know the solution to, or have I taken the time to ask questions and learn about other ideas and options that might be better?

What IS my definition of “helping”, and where did that come from? Am I willing to adjust that or is it firm?

What to I hope to gain from my efforts to help others? (We all have some motivation, we often don’t ask ourselves what it is)

What is the most effective way for me to participate in helping when it concerns issues that I feel passionate about?

Do I trust this organization or person to make decisions on my behalf as a donor that will result in truly helping, or do I have concerns?

They’re all important questions. The last one is a BIG one because I think that there’s a lot in there. If I give to an organization because I feel passionate about something, do I really trust that my donor dollars will be spent effectively? Do I believe that they will have the insight to learn what the best solutions are and invest their time and resources into making lasting change, or do I feel I need to dictate what that might look like because I’m not really sure? Am I willing to listen if they share with me why my understanding of an issue might be different from the best solutions in that situation based on their cultural knowledge and experience?

When we “help” we need to be invested in the process in the right ways. Sometimes that means being more involved, and sometimes I think that means entrusting those that God has called into roles of leadership to discern the best ways of doing things. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had conversations with people both in the missions community and the development world who are frustrated because their on the ground experience has taught them that one solution is the best way to go, while their home culture support is dictating another way. In some cases those directives are causing more problems than good, and those staff members have had to physically remove themselves from being associated with the organization because they don’t want to be part of the damage.

We have to be educated. We have to be intentional. And we have to be willing to admit that maybe we don’t know the best way sometimes. We need to be learners.

A lot of people are willing to step into the role of the learner and they ask us where they should start because this is so different from what our culture teaches us. We love to recommend that people read “When Helping Hurts”. It’s a great book that was intended for the North American Church at large, and was written to challenge us all in what we see as missions work and how that’s changed in recent decades. That said, I recommend it to anyone that is coming from a developed country, whether they’re affiliated with a church or not because the principles are great. Mostly it just asks the question of whether we’re doing more harm than good. And if so, what can we do differently to stop that cycle?

Prayer:

  • Pray for the organizations and missionaries that you may already be supporting. Pray for all the day to day decisions in the cultures where they’re serving. Pray for those in leadership as they balance in-country relationships and needs with home country and organizational relationships and needs.
  • Pray that God would use these organizations and people to be truly effective where they are serving, and to not do more harm. Pray that he will reveal areas where this might be a problem to their leadership and that their leadership would have soft and obedient hearts that will change direction if needed.
  • Ask God to show you any ways that you as a supporter might have expectations that aren’t reasonable or in the best interest of the people being served, and then ask him to change those things in you.
  • Ask for wisdom in knowing how to best invest in those that are serving on your behalf as a donor around the world.

Thanks for continuing on this journey with me!

~Leslie

Supporting Missions Well: Where the Money Goes

We’re well into our series now. If you want to catch up you can read the previous posts by clicking the following links:

Calling, Grief and Defining Home  ~ Raising Support and “Going”  ~ Being a Good Support

Care & Expectations

I hope these posts are informative at the very least. There’s so much involved in this missionary life that we lead, just like any other kind of life. I think that not always being present means that it can be hard to delve in to any major degree and the questions that often come up might not have opportunity to be answered.

Today I want to talk about all of this support we’ve been focusing on. In particular, the financial side of things. More specifically, where does the money go?

Missionaries raise financial support, but where does it go exactly? What are the real life expenses of a missionary? I think sometimes we might be afraid to ask because money tends to be a taboo subject, but I think a lot of missionaries would like for you to ask simply because the knowledge lets you better know what their needs are and how their life is so different than if they were in the home country, and yet not.

Ready? Okay, here we go!

Housing:

In some cases housing is provided by the organization either as part of a stipend, or because the organization has facilities available. If they do provide housing there may still be some cost to the missionary in the form of a monthly contribution to the organization to help offset some of the costs of maintenance and utilities. Our organization provides on site housing, but any newer volunteers have to pay a monthly staff fee that contributes towards housing. We paid this for many years, but our board waived this fee after several years as a sort of stipend for us because of our long term commitment to the organization. Missionaries that don’t have housing provided will have to take care of this expense themselves, and let me tell you, it can be a big expense. The reason it can be big is that in many situations there isn’t the option to pay rent on a monthly basis. This means the missionary will have to have an entire years rent available at once. Think of how this would affect you even back in North America. If your rent is as low as $700/month, that’s still $8400 due in one fell swoop. Ouch! Depending on where the missionary is living, rent can be on par with what they would pay back home, or it might be quite a bit higher or lower. This may also vary depending on what part of any given country they’re working in and how much they want to negotiate, if negotiation is an option.

Utilities:

There will most likely be some utilities expenses, whether it’s just basic services that you pay for monthly, like water and power, or whether the missionary is fully responsible for providing these things. In some countries there is infrastructure and these services are provided by the city. In Haiti, while there is country power in many places, it’s irregular and can’t be counted on, so we have to have a means to generate our own power. This means having a generator and/or solar system (usually both because there will be times when solar doesn’t charge enough), a bank of batteries and an inverter to take the power from the generator or solar system and convert the power to be useable. Depending on power needs, this can set a missionary in Haiti back by $5-15,000 or more. The low end set up would provide enough power to use a fridge, lights (with energy efficient bulbs), a fan or two and a few electronic devices like a laptop. Water? If there isn’t a system provided, again there will need to be something put in place by the missionary that usually involves pumping water from a storage system (either a reservoir on property or a well) into storage tanks that can gravity feed water into the home for use. The water pump will need to be powered – enter the generator or solar system… And, I would love to say that this is a one time investment, but it’s not. Batteries have a life span, and depending on the type used, they need to be replaced from time to time. There’s also equipment repairs on things like the generator and inverters, as well as regular maintenance on batteries. Obviously I’m talking about what I know, but it’s not so far off for a lot of people serving in off the grid places.

Phone and Internet:

Depending on country this may be expensive or it may be cheap. There may be a variety of services available and the quality might be good or really poor. In Haiti we’ve seen a lot of improvement in the past 5-6 years in this department. When I first arrived cell service was patchy, and there were no land lines. “Home phones” were actually phones connected to a booster that ran off cell towers. There were several companies providing coverage and we would have to take two different phones with us every time we left the house because the coverage would change just minutes down the road. It was expensive. Now we have a few new companies, the coverage is country wide, phones are cheap and so is the phone time, meaning almost everyone has a phone now. It’s less expensive for us to phone internationally than it is for our families to phone us – more than a dollar cheaper. But, we can do it for free too because those same phone companies also have data service for smart phones that we can use to hotspot and get our internet access from. We can call on Skype and other free services whenever we want. The cost? $50/month will get you 15GB data. In this department, we get a better deal than you do! But, that’s Haiti and it will be very different for each missionary.

Transportation:

Vehicles abroad can be really expensive, especially used vehicles. Buying a used, basic model vehicle in Haiti can be more expensive than buying a compact car back home. Models sold abroad are often not North American models because they’re built for rougher terrain, so parts are only available in country and can get expensive because there may be few resources, which gives business owners the opportunity to price gouge. Here, some people choose to ship vehicles in but that may cause higher parts expenses down the road, as well as down time, when the vehicle breaks down and they can’t get parts in country because the model isn’t sold here. In Haiti we pay insurance, but it doesn’t really benefit us because the times where it actually pays out are few and far between, and when it does it doesn’t get anywhere near covering the damage. Breakdowns and accident repairs are paid out of pocket because warranties are rarely offered past the first year, if at all, and that’s only when you buy from a dealership. If a vehicle isn’t available then a missionary is reliant on public transit, so that needs to get factored in to things.

Setting Up a Household:

When a missionary goes into the field they’ll have some expenses in some way for setting up home. If their living accommodations aren’t furnished, they need to furnish them. That means beds, furniture, appliances etc. Everything you would need to establish any kind of living space. In Haiti appliances and furnishings are expensive, at least 50% more than what we would pay back home, if not more. Household items can also be expensive. An average place setting for four, of every day dishes that you could find at Walmart for example, might cost $75. A lot of missionaries choose to bring things in their luggage or ship them in when setting up house. Many go without certain things like a washing machine, simply because they’re so expensive, or the needed items (like power and water) can be expensive. (Don’t worry, our clothes still get washed, it just gets done by hand!)

Documents:

You can’t just go and live somewhere outside of your home country without some sort of documentation in most cases. There may be a grace period, but eventually you may need to get some sort of residency permit or visa. These processes and documents can be expensive to get in the first place, and often need to be renewed annually. This would also include things like drivers licenses, any paperwork for bank accounts, etc.To get these documents might also mean getting other documents. In Haiti, we have to pay income tax, even though we don’t have any kind of income here in Haiti and we pay our taxes back in Canada or the US. If we don’t pay our income tax we can’t renew certain other documents annually.

Schooling:

If your missionaries have families this may be one of their larger expenses. You see, public schooling is a luxury and the majority of countries don’t have that option. In many cases missionaries are serving either in remote places or in areas where the schooling options may be on a lower level than what their children would have access to back home. We all want to give our children the best opportunities for the future, and this includes making sure they get an education on par with what they would have back home. For many this means homeschooling their kids. While there are a lot of resources available, and people who can donate curriculum, not all curriculum is free and can get expensive if schooling multiple children of different levels. Maybe the parents don’t have the time or the gifting to be effective homeschoolers. I know that if I had to I could, but it’s not where my heart is at nor is it what I’m gifted in. In those situations it may be private school or even boarding schools, depending on what the options are. In our area we’re so thankful that we have an option that’s a pretty good one for our kids. We’ll still have to augment with some things because it’s an American curriculum, but that’s okay. We still have to pay for this though and between school fees, uniforms and transportation every day it’s a significant expense, and we only have one child in school at this point. (And she’s doing fabulously!)

Food:

Oh food. The majority of missionaries that I know say this is one of their greatest, unexpected expenses. I say unexpected because the areas that they’re serving in are what would be classified as developing nations, so the idea is that food, even local food, would be less expensive, but it’s not true. And while well intended, most missionaries find that trying to only eat the local diet, which can be less expensive, can lead to health issues. In Haiti, if we ate Haitian food exclusively we would be eating high amounts of MSG, oil and a lot of fried stuff, not to mention mounds and mounds of rice and few fresh, raw veggies. Those things are all okay in moderation, but not over the long term. Most people we know try to have a balance by using locally available ingredients and finding some middle ground between what is familiar and the food in their adopted culture. In many cases though we all need to buy certain items, whether household goods like dish soap or toilet paper and food items that we’re familiar with. Many of those things are imported and come with a price tag. Most of the people we know, and our family included, choose to forego certain items and splurge on others. In Haiti, cheese for example, is about $8-10/lb. We still buy it, but choose not to buy other things like ice cream and apples. We buy a certain amount each month, then it’s gone, and when possible we bring cheese in our luggage with us in vast quantities (10 lbs anyone???). We buy local produce, eggs and many staples like flour, sugar, coffee etc from the local market, and try to stick to local products as much as possible even if they are a bit more expensive simply because we want to promote the local economy. I meal plan to be more focused when shopping. That said, we still pay about double what we would back home, and this is normal for missionaries in Haiti, no matter how much they work at reducing their food expenses. It’s just the way it is. Food, will most likely be one of the larger ongoing expenses for many missionaries. And, it’s good to know that this doesn’t include eating out, just basic groceries and household items.

Medical & Dental:

Most of us don’t have great options for insurance when we live abroad for a long time, and many places don’t have the means to process insurance funding. That means that most medical expenses that might be covered under a group or government plan back home – aren’t. It’s all out of pocket. There may be medical insurance programs available for citizens, but not for residents, which would be where most missionaries find themselves. The level of healthcare and dental care available might be mediocre at best, so we hope and pray we don’t have medical emergencies, and take care of any routine check-ups while back home. But, even then – we’re no longer considered “residents” in our home countries so we’re not eligible for most medical or dental programs and have to pay those costs out of pocket. If you want to use your medical or dental skills in the mission field in a way that will help people and be VERY appreciated, be intentional about setting aside some time during a trip to minister to missionaries this way. Missionaries are often the ones coordinating medical and dental opportunities for the people we’re serving, but are also in need ourselves.

Travel:

We have to plan for travel. Depending on where we are from and how often we go on home visits this may be a high expense. For our family of four, with all four of us now being on full fare tickets, one trip home per year – just the airfare – is is equivalent to about 1/5th of our annual support raised. Add any needed hotel stays, gas and other expenses that arise with moving a family around for a month or more, and it adds up.

Emergencies, Savings, and Retirement:

What do we do in emergencies where we might have to pay medical or travel expenses that weren’t planned for? What about putting something away in savings for these times? And, what about retirement? This is one that some people get a bit funny about. They feel uncomfortable with, and that is fine, but I will admit that I don’t understand it. Walk with me here…

If we were working back home in ANY kind of job, after we took care of bills, responsibilities and any tithing that we felt led to do, it would be considered responsible for us to put some sort of savings away either just into a savings account, or to put towards our retirement fund – or both. Not doing so would be considered irresponsible. I even had a retirement plan that I contributed to when I worked at the church. As in, I was saving for retirement while working in ministry. Now, we remove North America from the picture and provide “income” in the form of donations and all of the sudden it is no longer okay for an individual to put away funding into savings or a retirement plan, even though that’s where my income was coming from when I was working at the church – from donations to the church to cover it’s operating expenses. As missionaries, we work very hard at being good stewards of what we’re given, trying to make that go as far as possible, including thinking about emergencies and caring for our future after we know our time of service is finished.

If a missionary isn’t supposed to use their financial support to plan for retirement, what are they supposed to live off of when they do finally retire? Did you know that while we pay taxes as citizens of our home countries on any donations and gifts received, as it’s our main source of income, we may or may not be allowed to pay into retirement services provided by our governments? Our family has two citizenships represented. Chris files taxes in the US on income received there, and we’re obligated to pay into Social Security, yet we may or may not benefit from that one day. I pay taxes on our Canadian income – but because we are not in residence full time in Canada we are literally not allowed to pay into the Canada Pension Plan. Because we both moved to the mission field in our 20’s we don’t exactly have a lot stocked away in those contributions. So, what do we do?

Again, if we go back to the principle of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, wouldn’t we want for our missionaries what we want for ourselves? In the same way that we would want to know that there were emergency funds available to help cover expenses, especially if we didn’t have medical insurance or other resources available and had to literally pay out of pocket at the time, shouldn’t we want that for our missionaries? In the same way that we want to be wise and put away for retirement when we’re able, shouldn’t we want the same thing for our missionaries? We, personally, are so incredibly grateful for supporters who approached us and asked what our plans were in this department, and who have earmarked their donations very specifically for these needs. So thankful.

Rest and Respite:

This one is a hard one for most missionaries, but so very needed. And I think it can be a touchy one to talk about because we all come from different income brackets, and we all have different ideas about what is considered a “valid” expense in this area. Perhaps your family lives on a tight budget but you make an effort to give to missions because you believe it’s something God wants you to be doing, but you learn that the missionary your supporting took their family to the beach for the day when a vacation might not be a financial expense you can afford right now. How do you feel about that?

Let’s unpack this a bit.

I want to start by letting you know that the majority of missionaries we know do not make those decisions lightly. We are all VERY aware of the costs, as well as the perception and we think about all of it and in no way want to offend anyone. That said, we also believe that sometimes God provides to meet some very specific needs.

The need is not that one might need to go to the beach. The need is that the missionary or missionary family needs respite and rest.

Back in North America we have different social boundaries and cultural expectations. We have a different understanding of what personal space looks like, the things that are appropriate to ask for help with, when to do that, etc. When a missionary is in a cross-cultural setting those things look very different. The culture may be very communal so there is a completely different understanding of what privacy looks like, and a whole set of expectations to go with it. In Haiti, everyone always knows what’s going on. If something happens at the mission, the whole community will know. Personal space… we have unspoken boundaries in North America. When those are different it means that everywhere you go people are rubbing and bumping against you and people fill any space available within a confined area because there might be room for just one more. Often these cultures, while having some beautiful benefits, can also be very intense. In Haiti, because of some of the social things, as well as the heat, people can be very verbally aggressive and you have to get used to participating in that or you get nothing done. Add to all of this the expectations and needs of ministry. When people arrive in the field they have to go through a process of finding a balance with how they use their time, as well as what they will participate in. When you’re surrounded by real, deep, physical needs all the time it can be very difficult to say no even if you know that is the right thing in any particular situation. There’s not only a physical separation but also an emotional one that needs to happen, and when you know you’re called there to “help” there can be a lot of stuff you have to work through while you figure out what the best way to do that is. It is anything but simple.

Are you feeling worn out yet? Welcome to life as a missionary. Basically, it feels like you’re always “on” and in many cases, there can be few outlets for rest where a missionary or their family can truly step away for a little while – even a day. But, that one day might mean another few months of effective ministry. In Haiti there are very few things to do for entertainment or rest value. Going some place, even for a hike, to try and get a bit of peace often results in having a trail of children and onlookers following you, and that isn’t restful. So, in Haiti, many people bite the expense and occasionally take a day at one of the local resorts because it’s one of the few places where they can just go and not have people needing them or in their space. No one knocking at their gate, no one getting in their face, being able to spend time with their family and not having any responsibilities. Maybe it’s a nice dinner out for a couple who finally gets to take a “date” night for the first time in 6 months. Or, a weekend away to celebrate a milestone birthday or anniversary, or simply because they’re just trying to push through and know that if they don’t take the time something is going to crack.

When we’re in these places of making the decision to spend the generously donated funding we have on a day or weekend away in country it can be hard. We feel guilty and we often have to go through the cycle of reminding ourselves that Jesus set the example of taking time away to regroup. He spent specific time with just his disciples away from the crowds so they could rest. He went away on his own to sleep and pray and I think, to just step back a bit. He did that because it was needed in the midst of ministering. Anyone that work in full time ministry knows the drains along with the blessings, and missionaries are right there. Aside from being okay with your missionaries using funding for respite days or treats like a meal out, I would ask you to encourage them to do so. Let them know it’s okay and that you see it as a health issue – mentally, physically and spiritually.

This list of expenses isn’t exhaustive, and as I mentioned before, will be different for each missionary depending on the organization that they’re working with, the type of ministry they’re involved in and where they’re serving. Some organizations require a set amount of funds raised before a missionary can even go into the field, and they help take care of some of these expenses and assist the missionary with a lot of planning and processing of documents, insurance etc, so there may be fees that the missionary is required to pay to their organization for those expenses, or a percentage of their overall funds raised is directed to the organization for this purpose. In most cases, just ask what the picture looks like and I bet you’ll find people that are happy to share because they want you to give confidently, knowing what your donations are helping them to do.

One thing that I want to take a second to address too, is looking at supporting missions financially as an investment. Many times we grab on to a cause and we want to support the organization, which is great and needed. But, when you can commit to regularly supporting a missionary that works with the organization you’re also investing in the organization, and this is why…

Because most missions organizations are relying on staff that raise their own support the terms that a missionary serves in the field might be varied if they don’t have consistent, reliable financial assistance. Aside from it being difficult for the missionary to plan for expenses in the same way it would be for you to know that your power, rent and phone bills were covered without a consistent income source, it can also lead to instability and a lot of changeover in staff for organizations themselves. I’m sure we can all think of a time where we were either part of a staff who went through a significant staff change over or know of situations where that’s happened, and can think of the effects of that on the work that was being done. Many missionaries serve in key leadership roles, so having regular staffing change overs can mean a disruption in what the organization is able to do and a completely different direction if the new staff leader thinks it necessary. It can be hard for an organization to be really effective over the long term if they have frequent staffing changes. When you choose to invest in the long term by supporting a missionary, you are actually investing in the life of the organization. We are so grateful for the people that see this with our financial support. They know that by helping to support us they are helping to support the overall work and ministry of Clean Water for Haiti. The consistency that our organization has experienced because our leadership has been consistent has helped us to accomplish a lot more than if we had experienced frequent staff change overs, resulting in more Haitian families having access to clean water in their homes.

I think a lot of people also feel that if they can’t make a larger regular donation that there is no point, but we’ve had donors that have given $10/month for years. Looking at it as a stand alone donation it doesn’t seem like much, but add that up over the years and that one donor gives $120/year. That’s adds up to more than a one time $50 donation. Most missionaries we know would love to have a bunch of small donations committed each month, because it becomes reliable income. We know it will be there and we can plan our budgeting with that. Don’t get me wrong, we love one time donations too, but I think you understand what I’m saying – there’s a place for both, but consistency is a huge gift!

I hope this has been informative, at the very least, and helpful in some degree. If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments!

Prayer:

  • Ask God to show you how you can be actively supporting a missionary or missions in general if you aren’t already.
  • Pray for missionaries and the organizations they work with, that they would have strong, long term leadership teams that enable to organization to be incredibly effective.

~Leslie

Supporting Missions Well: Care and Expectations

If you’re just joining us, we’re talking about how to better support missions and missionaries in a multi-part series. So far we’ve talked about Calling, Grief, and Defining Home, Raising Support and “Going”, and Being a Good Support.

Today I want to talk about the whole idea of care and what realistic expectations are for the missionaries you support and know.

Let’s start with the care side of things.

Did you know that you have a great opportunity to love and care for missionaries in some real, practical ways both while on home visits and while they’re in the field? I think we all know we can be praying for them regularly, which is a big part of things, and we can donate towards financial needs, but there are SO many ways that most missionaries would never mentioned that show them a kind of pastoral care, as well as care in the body. And you know what, sometimes they might not even think of these things but when they happen – major blessing to them.

Note: I do want to preface this with letting you know that I’m not sharing this in the hopes of gaining anything personally from it. No expectations here. Just a desire to give you ideas based on what has been a blessing to us or to others, and if you choose to use it as a jumping off point to bless ANY missionary, mission accomplished :)

Missionaries At “Home”

First off, lets talk about things that fall in the “home” category – things that can be done while a missionary or missionary family is on home assignment, visit or vacation – whatever you want to call it or best fits the situation.

From the outside, it may seem like we have cushy lives because we get a month or more of “vacation” when we come home. But, I can assure you that it’s not all vacation. And it’s not all restful. I’ll use the example of our last years summer vacation. We took 6 weeks back in the US and Canada.

We left mid-June. Before leaving we had to get everything ready for our departure, which meant wrapping up work, cleaning up, putting things away, locking up and making sure certain things were taken care of in our absence. When we’re away there is always a nagging thing in the back of our brains wondering if everything is okay in our absence, especially because if things aren’t we might not know right away because of limited communication options and if something has happened, we’re limited in what we can do about it. After all of this was accounted for we wrapped things up with a staff fun day because we like to let our workers know we appreciate them.

We spent a day and a half traveling between Haiti and Seattle, with an overnight in New York. Time differences mean that the first week or so in the West coast has us up around 3 am and ready for bed around dinner time. This wreaks havoc on our kids because they can’t mentally tell themselves to adjust. Our first few days and weekend were spent getting things ready to travel (sorting through clothes, preparing the van and loading up, shopping for anything like shampoo, diapers etc) and preparing for and attending our Annual General Meeting with our board of directors, which we schedule for our summer visits so we can attend in person. From there we started to drive up to Canada to go see Chris’ cousins who I had never met. They live in Northern British Columbia. Typically we like to spend about a week or so camping with the kids where we have a very loose schedule so we can keep driving to a couple of hours and then stay in one spot if we really like it. Last summer was all about driving. So much driving. Our camping trip was more about having a place to sleep and getting from point A to point B. We spent long days driving, then setting up camp, spending a few hours enjoying where we were, eating, sleeping, packing up and driving again. It literally took us about 4 days of traveling like this to get from Seattle to Chris’ cousins house. Once we arrived there we had a really good 5 day visit with them, and then we hit the road again, stopping for one night with friends and another with my cousins in Prince George. From there it was another few days of driving and camping to get to my parents house. We had a deadline because of some scheduled fundraisers. When we arrived I spent several long days working on preparing for the fundraisers while Chris tried to keep the kids busy. Once those were done and out of the way we tried to spend time with family and friends. Chris’ brother flew in from California to spend a few days with us which was great. After all of that we hit the road again and headed back down to Bellingham. There aren’t many places to camp for free between my parents place and Bellingham, so we do the trip in a straight 8 hour day trip. We have friends there that we love to see who let us camp in their back yard and come and go as we please. Chris went to university in B’ham so we always spend a few days in town, maybe longer, because there’s so much to do with the kids and we love it. Our friends planned a wonderful evening get together for us with other friends and we sat around the fire chatting until late. It was great. From there we headed back to Seattle, then shot down to see Chris’ parents for a night and did a presentation at the same time, then back up to Seattle to spend a couple days visiting with people, then preparing to head back to Haiti. Packing is no fun and often means hours of sorting and organizing and weighing and shuffling. Another day and a half of traveling and we arrived back in Haiti tired.

We didn’t keep track of the number of miles we did last summer, mostly because we probably would have cried. Yes, it was SO wonderful to see so many people that we normally wouldn’t get to and totally worth it, it was just a lot of traveling. Also, if you know anything about northern Canada in the summer, you probably know that the days are very long. Our kids, especially Alex, had a really hard time with the daylight and sleeping. It was exhausting for me because his sleep schedule was all over the map. Camping is really fun with the kids, but the very act of setting up and cooking can still feel like work.

What I just shared is a very normal run down for a missionary family on “vacation” and yet not because our family has worked hard at balancing our time to be mostly vacation and not so much “work” related stuff while we’re away. Thankfully our board of directors is very supportive of this and makes sure that we know we should be resting while home. It can be fun, but it can also be exhausting to be moving around so much, to be guests so often and to not have any real routine – especially with kids. Please know that we love all of it, but it’s also nice to come home and sleep in our own beds and get back to our routine. I think we all know of a vacation or two where we got back feeling more tired than when we went, but know that the change of scenery was what did us good. For a missionary that’s probably almost every “vacation” that they take.

Practical Love:

As a supporter of missionaries, there are so many ways that you can love on them and help give care and rest while they’re on home visit. These are just some fun ideas based on things that have been special to us and others we know, things that we get stunned to receive but are sweet and such a blessing:

  • Letting a missionary/missionary family use your vacation home or even time shares if available while they’re on vacation/home visit, recognizing that having time away like that it is often out of their budget.
  • If you’re friends or family and are able to babysit, offer to do things with their kids to give Mom and Dad time to go on a date (something that’s often hard in the field), or take care of errands without the kids. There are often a lot of business matters and appointments to take care of while home.
  • Find out what supplies the family will need while home, things like diapers, shampoo etc, and collect coupons that will be useable when they’re there to help them save some money. We had friends do this with diapers and pull ups and it was really sweet!
  • To take that a step further, stock up on some of those items for them to use while there and even take back with them if needed. Things like diapers are often expensive abroad and of lower quality.
  • If you use or have access to activity coupon books or free passes to things, save things that might be fun for their family to do while in the area so they can do them at a reduced cost or for free and give them to the family when they arrive.
  • Make a list of community events or attractions with dates and times for them so they know what’s going on, when and where, and do something as easy as email it to them so they have it handy. We’ve loved being able to go to community festivals and things like that while home. It’s often cheap or free entertainment and helps us feel part of things.
  • Gift certificates or gift cards to eat out at a local restaurant can be a big treat as most missionaries don’t eat out a lot. It might mean a date night or a time to do something special as a family. And don’t worry about feeling like you need to cover the whole meal. Even a $20-25 certificate or card is a big deal because it might offset half the cost of the meal. We’ve had people do this for us and it meant Chris and I could go out for a nice dinner at a place we would never normally consider, and we were fine covering the rest of the cost of our meal because it was less than what we would have had to pay for two. Even a $5-10 Starbucks card might mean a coffee date for Mom and Dad while running errands :)
  • Gift cards for local stores where you know the family might be able to purchase needed items for their stay or to take back with them. When we come home we have lists of everything we might need to stock up on that is either hard to find or too expensive to buy in Haiti. I might spend $500 at Walmart in a week before we head back. Could you imagine how much you could bless a missionary by getting a group of people together and buying several gift cards? Even 10 people who chose to contribute $15 each would make a considerable difference for the family or missionary
  • In that same vein, what if you offered to do the shopping for them? Not only would you be blessing them by taking care of the expense, but also by doing the work. It could be a fun women’s or missions project. Maybe you fundraise, then ask for a specific list from the missionary and purchase as many items as possible, taking care to focus on asking how specific they need items to be (see later in this post for more on this).
  • Gas cards! Remember all that traveling I mentioned? Yep. We have a rewards Visa that we use for purchasing plane tickets and things like that, and we usually save those points and exchange them for gas cards. It’s so nice to pull up to the pump and know that we don’t have to pay for the gas with cash in our wallets, but that it’s essentially free to us.
  • Share your rewards. If you collect things like frequent flier miles or Airmiles you can often transfer those to other people if you know you might not use them. You can also often use these rewards towards gift cards that might help with some of the above ideas.

Pastoral Care & Counselling:

You might be surprised to see this in here, but hear me out.

The mission field can be a complicated and intense place to be. Many of the experiences we have in the day to day are hard to describe at best. Over time we learn to cope, but sometimes those experiences can be traumatic.

Our family went through a really difficult, intense period starting in late 2008 that spanned about 3 years. I had come home in April of 2010 for my brothers wedding, and while home spent a bit of time talking to a counselor friend. She gave me the contact info for a counselor trained in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) counseling and suggested that whenever we were able to come home as a family that Chris and I see her.

That was one of the best decisions we’ve made.

We were so broken and worn out from everything. We felt like we’d lived 5 lifetimes in a couple years time and any time we tried to talk about it couldn’t find the words to fully describe things. I’ll admit, we went reluctantly because we were sure this woman would never be able to speak into the stuff we’d gone through, but we told ourselves we would do one session, then decide. We literally sat in the car just before going in saying, “Just one session, then we’ll decide from there.” We sat in her cozy office. The fact that she wasn’t Canadian by birth and was from a country known for violence was a huge help. She listened, we shared the nutshell version, and then I remember her taking a few minutes to share her story – things we could identify with. Horrible losses and pain. And we relaxed a bit. I could literally feel us both exhale. She “got” us in a way most people would never be able to. And I think we saw a glimmer of hope for the first time in a long time. Over the period of a few months we saw her weekly and started processing through things and learning tools. Tools that we’ve put into use many times since then in our day to day life here.

Sometimes missionaries need specialized care and counseling. Marriages can get incredibly strained from trying to balance ministry and life and culture and everything. Family life can take a toll, especially when kids are trying to figure out how to fit in when they may never ever fit in. Traumatic events can happen in our adopted countries that even the most well intended people back home will never be able to relate to.

In these situations it’s not just care that is needed, it might mean specialized care. That care might have a cost, and I know so many people that might not have the funds to cover that, so they might not get it. Being willing to either offer these services pro bono or at a significantly reduced fee, as a way of supporting missionaries is such a gift if you’re skilled in these areas. Helping to provide the funding for a missionary to get this care is also a major blessing when budgets are tight. Even helping to connect them to these resources is a major blessing because we’re not around, and word of mouth is often the best resource of all.

Professional Services:

Offering your skills, whether is cutting hair, medical, mechanical,etc at a reduced rate or for free – all of it can be a big blessing to missionaries while on home visits.

 

Missionaries In the Field

Now that we’ve talked extensively about practical things to do while a missionary is visiting, lets throw out some things that you can do while they’re in the field.

Practical Love:

  • Offer to help print, stuff and mail any newsletters or mailings that the missionary or organization needs to send – and then be reliable and follow through. Again, we can’t be there to do it ourselves so this is often something that can be so necessary, but difficult to do. Much needed!
  • If feasible and cost effective, be willing to gather or shop for supplies that the missionary might need personally or for their organization, and send them on to someone who will be coming in, or to a designated shipping company to be shipped to the country of service. Many of us will gladly reimburse people for any expenses, we just need the hands and feet to go and do the work!
  • In the same vein as the previous idea ask how the missionary gets needed items. If they do like we do, and order things online to be sent to visitors and brought in luggage, ask for a needs list and order those things for them and have them sent to the designated address. Or perhaps there’s a specific need that can be purchased in country and you want to give towards that item and can do so through their support. Let them know you’ve chosen to cover that need.
  • Send care packages. I know this sounds like something a college student might say, but it’s seriously a treat when we have visitors to the mission that arrive with gifts from home. I have one friend who, when she’s able to, asks when people are coming in and then puts together the best care packages for me and mails them to the visitor to bring in their luggage. She always has fun and sends little things that might not be the most practical or needed, but that bring me joy and are fun for me. Such a gift!
  • Be in touch! As I mentioned in a previous post, we send out monthly emails to our support base, both as a family and as an organization. We love it when people take a few minutes to quickly fire an email back to encourage us and just say Hi. It doesn’t need to be long or anything special. Just a note to let us know you’re thinking of us helps us feel connected.

Again, this list is not exhaustive by any means, just suggestions and ideas.

We’ve talked about the care side of things, and now I want to once again tread into what might be uncomfortable territory for some. Again, just to reiterate – my intention is to not be judgmental or critical, but rather to start conversations. Some of these things are hard to talk about. I feel kind of vulnerable being the one to say some of this stuff. But, I think it needs to be said because hard things can bring good things. And, as the body of Christ, I think God wants our best, especially when it comes to loving one another.

I think any time we’re in the position of offering support and giving there is some small part of us that has expectations of what that should look like or what the response will be. On some level we want to have our actions and intentions appreciated.

Please hear me when I say this – we, as missionaries APPRECIATE YOU.

We do. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to serve the way God has called us to. You become his hands and feet and help meet our needs.

One thing that can be hard when you’re in the position of the receiver is feeling like there is an obligation to accept everything that people want to give or do at the risk of offending them if you don’t. But, what happens when that offered gift is not needed, or is needed in a slightly different form? What if it’s close, but not quite what will meet the specific need?  It can be very hard to say thank you, but no thank you when you’re in our shoes.

Let’s flush this out a bit so you can understand more of where I’m coming from.

As an individual or a family you know there are things that your family needs. Some of these needs may be met with resources where there are really no specifics, as in a variety of things would work or you’re not that particular, for whatever reason, about well, the specifics. Maybe you need a baby stroller and for your family it’s not something that you have a lot of strong feelings around, so when a friend offers up a good condition one you jump on the chance. For other things, you may have reasons why a specific item or resource would be better for your family. Perhaps you need a new couch and after a lot of deliberation you decide that it would be a good investment for your family to purchase a new one rather than a used one, for whatever reason.

As individuals and families, missionaries are just like you. While there are some things that we don’t have strong feelings about, there are others that we do, for whatever reason.

For example, with our kids being the age that they are, we’re happy with hand me downs and used clothing. When we go home we often go to thrift stores to stock up on certain things. I buy a lot of their clothes used on Ebay too. That said, I am particular about what kinds of clothes I get for them, or accept from people. What kind of fabric is it? Will it breath well? How will it hold up? Will they actually have anywhere to where this? Alex hardly wears anything but a diaper right now, and I try to make sure Olivia’s clothes mix and match well so when she dresses herself I know she’s not going to look like she got dressed in the dark. It means less work for me in the long run.

For some things, we’re thinking about how an item will get used and other factors that come into play when we’re not living in first world conditions. Over time we’ve realized that while there might be a more economical option for some things, in some cases it is worth it over the long term to invest in particular items. Maybe it’s a good, comfortable pair of sandals because we wear them every day, or a more expensive, good quality blender because our power fluctuations burn out less expensive models, which we then have to spend more money on replacing.

My point is, there are always so many factors involved in accepting some of your gifts. We love your generosity, but maybe it just isn’t the best fit for our family. In other situations, sometimes, like you, we just want certain things that might be more in line to our personal taste or want to take care of certain things ourselves because there’s a sense of normalcy in picking certain things out. When Olivia was a baby we were given so many gifts of clothing for her that it was literally impossible for her to wear or use it all. They were all great items, beautiful, and such a blessing. You know what was hard for me though? As a new mom I just wanted to pick out a few things on my own for my baby girl, and not feel guilty about it. The generosity was overwhelming, but I just wanted the chance to pick something out myself.

I think sometimes it’s easy to offer up solutions or things for a need, and then get offended quickly if they’re refused, when the place we maybe need to start from is asking for specifics on the best way to meet that need and choose to listen, then do what we can to meet that according to what the person in need offers as guidelines. I think in the case of a missionary it actually helps us feel more cared for when people take the time to ask us for specifics. It means that people really want to do something that is going to meet the need to the fullest, rather than just getting by. It can also cause undo burden and extra work for the missionary when they have to deal with things that are either broken, or don’t work to the fullest extent that might be needed.

In that same vein, asking for specifics can also help alleviate other burdens. Will that gift cause cultural issues? Will the gift be something that is used, or something that the missionary needs to find a new home for, causing them more work? What about values and principles, does it cause any issues there?

We love having visitors come to the mission, and when they come they will often use most of their luggage space to bring in supplies for the mission. Over the years we’ve chosen to use most of that space to order items online and have them sent to their homes to be packed and brought in for us. At times there are items that visitors can bring in that they get themselves or that people donate through them. In that though, we’ve learned that certain things work better than others. Work gloves are an example. While work gloves in general are appreciated by our staff, certain kinds don’t do well when used in water, and we work with a lot of water. We’ve chosen to get really specific with which types of gloves people bring because they’re the best for what we do. Are the others an option? Yes. But, they aren’t the best suited for what we need. People often want to bring gifts for our kids, and while we appreciate the gesture, we’ve actually asked that they pre-approve any gifts with us first because we noticed our kids were starting to develop an attitude of entitlement whenever we had guests, and it took the specialness of getting gifts away. We want gifts from family and close friends, as well as ourselves, to mean something and we don’t want our kids to think that it’s something people are obligated to do. Sometimes we have people ask us if they can send things back with us, or bring items in, because they think it will be a nice gift for our staff or someone else. Often we say thank you, but refuse, simply because we’re aware of the cultural issues that can arise and we’ve worked to establish relationships on different terms than what might be initially obvious.

In all of these situations the intentions are good, but they might not be the best for what is needed. This goes back to what I shared in a previous post about loving our neighbors. If we want to love well, I think that involves taking into consideration what might be the best, most honoring, and in line with how we would want to be treated. If we’re truly giving because our motivation is right we should be okay with hearing “thank you but no thank you”, trusting that there are good reasons that go beyond, “I guess they just aren’t grateful when people try to help”. If our motivation is right it doesn’t matter what they think, it matters what God thinks. God knows our hearts, he knows our intentions. Maybe he has other plans for filling that need, and maybe he needs to do some heart work on the recipient.

I guess what I’m saying is, in the same way that you would want it, please allow missionaries the grace to refuse the offer of help and ask how you CAN be involved in a way that they need. Choose to not be offended. If you let them know that you are open to trying to help in any way that is most helpful to them it gives the freedom to get specific, and in turn, find the best way to meet that need. You may also enter into a wonderful opportunity for conversation and to learn more about the specifics of their ministry, cultural issues and things that they may have little opportunity to really delve into – and frankly, what can be more loving than that?

Prayer:

  • Just pray. Easiest way to support us right there :)
  • Pray for God to show you practical ways to support a missionary in the field. It doesn’t need to be any big gesture. Sometimes the small things are the ones that mean the most – an email, card or something like that can be a big deal.
  • Ask God to show you who to share these posts with, in the hopes that it might help you raise up more support for a missionary that you love and support already.
  • Ask God to show you a specific need that a missionary might have, even if they haven’t shared it with you, and how you might be able to help meet that need. Be creative and active.

Would love to hear thoughts and feedback on any of the things we’re talking about this week, so please leave comments!

~Leslie

Supporting Missions Well: Being a Good Support

This week I’m writing a series of posts about supporting missions well. The first post talked about Calling, Grief and Defining Home, and yesterdays post talked about Raising Support.

I ended yesterdays post with a segue of sorts into what I want to talk about today, which is the “sending” side of things. Yes, there’s a lot involved for a missionary when they’re getting ready to go to the field in the area of raising support, as well as maintaining that over the long term. But, there’s also a lot that I want to say to those of you who support missions. Again, know that these things are coming from the heart and in a way of lovingly sharing, not with criticism or judgement, but with the intention of getting us all talking and thinking about this thing we call missions.

I think it’s safe to say that every person that supports a missionary is doing so because they care about no less than 3 things. First, they care about being obedient to God’s directives to support those that are called into the mission field. Secondly, they care about the missionary themselves, whether it’s someone they know personally or someone their church supports faithfully. Lastly, they believe in and want to support the actual work that the missionary is doing.

So, if we can all start off with those basic assumptions we’ll move forward from there. Before I do that though, I want to say THANK YOU. To those of you who support missions in any capacity – THANK YOU! You will probably never know how much your support has meant or what it’s been able to help accomplish, because most of the time those of us in the field won’t ever see the full reach of what God has called us to do because so much of it is relational.

My hope with this post is to take some of the things that we’ve already talked about and spring board from there to talk about practical things that will help “senders” well, send better! Again, this list isn’t exhaustive, and if there are missionaries reading this that want to contribute I hope you’ll do so in the comments so we can all benefit.

If we can start from the place of recognizing that the process of getting ready to move to the mission field is not just hard logistically in so many ways, but also very emotional, you can have and idea about how to better walk alongside your missionaries through that transition. Also knowing that it can be really hard to put ones needs out there can help all of us know that sometimes we need to ask. Yes, it is absolutely okay to ask specific questions, letting your missionary know that nothing they say is going to offend you, but that you’re asking because you really care and want to help. Maybe you aren’t the one that can financially meet a specific need, but you might know others who can that just need to know there is a need, and you might be the person that can present that.

I think one of the hardest things for missionaries in the big picture is raising support, whether it’s through the ways they stay connected with supporters back home or whether it’s when they’re on home visit/assignment/vacation, and needing to connect with people or do specific fundraising. I want to give you some practical ideas that would be SO helpful for the people you want to support. These are not just things our own family has needed or been blessed by, but also gathered from conversations with other missionaries. And again, maybe you aren’t the person that can do these things, but you might know someone who is.

1. Creating opportunities to share.

One of the HARDEST things any missionary has to do is set up and coordinate speaking and sharing times to let others know what they’re doing or what the ministry that they’re working with does. Why is it hard? Because we aren’t THERE. It’s incredibly difficult to not only contact people, but have those that we are in contact with feel any sense of importance for what we’re asking because we aren’t physically present. Add in other logistical issues like time zone differences, patchy internet or phone lines, or just not even having a specific relationship with the leadership of the church or organization and it’s almost impossible for a missionary to find new venues to share, let alone maintain previous opportunities. People like presence.

This is where you come in. Be an advocate. Be that person that can be the coordinator for a missionary or organization in your area. When you know that a missionary will be on home visit, ask them if they want you to try and set up opportunities to share in your area. I will guarantee you that if you are able to set up even one opportunity to share that would be effective, as in a reasonable sized group, the missionary will be there! And this is why…

People support what they connect with. And people connect when they can be there in person. The majority of our supporters, whether it’s for our family or for the mission in general, are supporters because they’ve heard Chris and I speak or have met us at some point. We become the people that they identify with when they think about the organization, and no matter how many different ways others can share about Clean Water for Haiti, when we do it they see our personal passion for it and hear our stories and heart, and that’s what they connect with.

Churches and Church Groups:

Sharing in a church that isn’t your home church is hard. It’s almost impossible to connect with anyone there, unless someone that attends there is a supporter. Talking to your church Missions Committee or leadership to see what kinds of opportunities might be available is a HUGE thing for us because we can’t do it on our own. It’s the equivalent of doing a cold sales call. But, someone on the inside who is invested in their church and in missions can do a ton for a missionary with setting up opportunities at a church, whether it’s time in the service or presentation times afterwards or through the week.

I do want to add that this is one area where the face of missions is changing. Did you know that one of the HARDEST places for missionaries to get sharing time now is in churches? Yep. Time and time again we hear how hard it is to even get a few minutes in the service to let people know you’re there. Many churches are so focused on programs and reaching out to their communities that missions have take a back seat in what they put before the congregation, and that’s hard and sad. We are blessed that both of the churches our family is most closely connected to because of our parents are very supportive of our family and Clean Water for Haiti and are often looking for opportunities for us to share. Such a blessing. But, it can be SO frustrating when you’re looking for opportunities.

Community or Private Events:

Maybe you aren’t connected with a church, but someone you care about is on the mission field and you want to support what they’re doing. You too can play an active role in setting up presentation times, whether it’s something as simple as inviting them to coffee with a few friends that might be interested, or doing something bigger at a community level. Here are a few ideas:

  • Coffee with friends that might be interested.
  • A dessert evening in your home with a small group of friends.
  • Wine and cheese party with a chance to mingle and talk to the group for a few minutes.
  • School groups.
  • Socially minded community groups like Rotary are fabulous opportunities for humanitarian focused missions like ours.

Just a few suggestions, but a lot of people like us really enjoy smaller events where we can get to know people and chat a bit to get that connection time with people.

2. Help with practical needs.

This is really a big one. Often missionaries don’t have a “home” that is theirs to come back to, so vacation and home times can feel disjointed and much like “couch surfing” a lot of the time. Some practical suggestions that are SO helpful for missionaries and missionary families:

Housing/Accommodation:

Many will stay with friends and family, which are great opportunities but sometimes there might not be room for a family and they need a place to stay where they can be comfortable and relax a bit without being in “guest” mode all the time. I think this is especially important for families. Having a bit of time on their own can be a great opportunity for rest and regrouping in the midst of traveling around. Maybe you or someone you know has a house needing a house sitter. Most missionary families would be glad to watch over things for you and benefit from the personal space. Or maybe you have a basement suit or something like that available while they’ll be in the area. This rings true especially for families with young kids who really need some sort of routine in the midst of the traveling.

Vehicles:

Most missionaries sell all major possessions before going into the field, not only to make funding available, but also so they don’t have to worry about storing or maintaining these things from a distance. So, when they go on home visits they don’t have things like cars.

As a family we’re really blessed in this department. We DO have a vehicle – a 1969 camperized Volkswagen van. We just call it “the van”. And, as much as our parents would like to see us move on to something else, we won’t. Chris and I spent our honeymoon traveling around and camping in the van, and now when we go home with the kids we can get away for a really inexpensive holiday with them by spending a week or two at a time camping wherever we want because we have a stove and beds and everything self contained. If we need to overnight with friends or family that don’t have the room, we can sleep in the van. We LOVE it! But, that said, it’s not a winter vehicle because it’s a “pre-heater” model. Chris has a good friend who rigged up a “Franken-heater” for us one winter, but… :) So, when we go home in the winter months for any reason, like holidays or fundraising trips like Chris just did, we have friends in the Seattle area who have a car that they will let us use. HUGE blessing!

For our family, a big part of this is having a place to park our van, and we are again very blessed to have friends that have a garage bay that they let us use (Hi Barb & Paul!). We can park the van in there, and store several plastic totes of things like winter clothes and anything we might only need on vacation times in a corner of the garage. When we come home we fly into Seattle, they pick us up at the airport and we stay at their house as long as we need to, and then come and go from there. Seattle is less expensive for us to fly into than where either of our families live, and neither of our parents have the means to store our van and other stuff, so this works out wonderfully for our family and we’re so thankful for it. Things like this can be a HUGE blessing to people like us. (Wow, I’m really into the HUGE thing right now…)

Clothing:

If your missionaries are coming from a warm climate to a cold one, this can be a big thing. We don’t keep more than one or two changes of “cold” clothes in Haiti, and by that I mean jeans, and sweaters that we can layer. Most people we know will have what they need for their travel days, and then rely on sufficient clothing meeting them at their destination.

It can be a really big blessing to find out what your missionary might need in advance, especially if they have kids. Kids grow so fast, that even if they had clothes put away the previous visit, they might not fit by the time they come again. Asking what they need specifically and then working to gather those things to have washed and ready for their arrival is a huge help.

Piggy backing off this, if you plan enough in advance, you could really help a missionary family out by gathering items while they’re in season that might be needed for them to take back. Wouldn’t it make for a fun way to bless a missionary mom by gathering a group of ladies from the church or community, and having them work together to find items that the missionary mom indicates as needs, then having a “shopping” time where mom can come, visit with the ladies and choose what she knows her family will use? Whatever she doesn’t need can then be returned to the donor or passed on to the community in some way decided by the group.

3. Open House Gatherings:

This is something that I want to encourage people to think about. When missionaries come on home visits much of their time back is spent doing fundraising and the rest is spent cramming in visits with everyone that they want to see. No matter how hard they work at scheduling in advance, there’s always a sense that there isn’t enough time, and people get missed. This can result in feelings of not being included or important enough to “make the cut” in the missionary’s calendar of events.

Last summer while we were home we had a fundraiser that we set up. It was a Jewelry Party that we did as an open house type thing in my parents back yard. We had set hours where people could come and buy handmade jewelry from Haiti, with the proceeds going to Clean Water for Haiti. Yes, we raised a good amount of money, but you know what Chris and I loved? SO MANY PEOPLE CAME TO SEE US. Because it was an open house people could come when it worked for them. Some came during the afternoon, and others came after supper. We saw people we hadn’t seen since I left for the mission field. We had family who all planned to be there at the same time. There were refreshments out so people could come and hang out. We got to meet friends of friends who came for the jewelry, but got to meet us and connect that way. It was such a great day. We saw so many people, it was relaxed, everyone got to visit with us to some extent and we did it all in one day without feeling pulled in a billion directions or that we were missing someone.

If you want to bless a missionary ask if you can help pull together and Open House for them. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just a place big enough to host a gathering of people, whether it’s a private residence, park or some other venue. Refreshments could be as simple as cookies and juice provided by a group of people, or do a potluck meal. Once you have the basics figured out let the missionary invite friends, family and supporters, and invite anyone else that you think they would enjoy connecting with. It’s a great opportunity to have a low key gathering that might interest people who wouldn’t come to a typical church style gathering.

4. Fundraising:

Trying to set up fundraisers that we can be present at while home is a great help. As I mentioned, trying to work the logistics of these while in the field is next to impossible. Many times these events, to be successful, require several planning meetings and face to fact communication. We can’t do that. They may require tracking down resources. We can’t do that. They may require set up. When we’re traveling and on vacation, that gets difficult. On top of all of this we have a calling and a full time job of being present where God has placed us, and to be effective doing that we need to be focusing our time and attention on those things God has set before us. We need others to help on the home front to be supporting what we’re doing by allowing us to focus on those things, and taking care of setting fundraisers up for us to attend and present at. Not only is this effective, but it’s also a nurturing thing – caring for your missionary by allowing them to relax on their rest time, and do the bare minimum of what they would normally do while in the field.

And this, friends, is a great way to segue into the next section of ideas – care and expectations. 

Before I leave you hanging though, let’s get back to those points to be praying for…

  • Pray for God to show you how to use your time, gifts, abilities and connections to actively help a missionary that you know in the ways mentioned.
  • Pray that God brings others into your circle that can help you in your efforts. These things are always more effective with more hands.
  • If your church isn’t very missions minded, pray for God to change that and provide opportunities for that to become a reality.

Thanks for sticking with me on all this!

~Leslie

 

Supporting Missions Well: Raising Support and “Going”

If you’re just joining us, the first post in this series was up yesterday. You can read it HERE.

Today I want to talk about something that’s a little touchy for some, whether it’s the actual missionary or those that support missionaries, and that’s the whole issue of raising support. This post is meant mostly for those that identify with the traditional style of missions where the Church is responsible for sending and the missionary is responsible for going so I’ll be using a lot of church related language in here. Just wanted to share that in case that isn’t your background.

I get it, talking about money and personal needs is a touchy thing and in some cases even socially taboo. But I have to ask the question – is that Biblical?

I’ve lost track of how often we’ve encountered people here in what would be a missions sense, who tell us that they haven’t actively raised their own financial support. In most of those cases they are living off of some sort of savings. When I ask about it the usual response is, “I just don’t feel comfortable asking people for money.”

I completely get that.

And, please know that anything I say in here is in no way meant to be criticism or judgement, but rather asking questions and getting all of us to think about this thing called missions and support – on both sides of the coin, as the goer and as the sender.

If we go to the Bible we see story after story of people like Paul who went to share the gospel, and relied on the local church to provide for their needs. God told them to go, and they trusted that he would care for them in all ways.

Remember that at the time the local church was a relatively new thing. Christians were persecuted to the point of death. And yet, they still chose to actively care for those that God had called into full time ministry.

I think one of the major downsides of coming from a culture where we have so much and access to so much is that we’ve lost the beautiful ability to fully trust God for our needs. Here in Haiti people literally survive day to day, and the sense of peace that so many exhibit is humbling. Often when you ask questions people will talk about their belief that Bondye konenn – God knows. He knows their needs and he will provide. These are not the kind of things that we might call a need back home, these are real life or death, daily survival type needs.

Our access to anything we want, at literally any time of day is crazy. Seriously. You think, “Hey, I need lettuce” and you can go to the grocery store at 1 am and buy lettuce. You can buy gas round the clock and you can go out for a meal at any time of day that you desire. We don’t have to wait for anything. Yes, many save and plan and that’s a great thing, but they don’t have limited access to those items. It’s not like in the old days where you had to order things through the catalog and wait for them to arrive.

I think this type of lifestyle has taught us how to forget to be reliant on God as our great Provider. Our culture also teaches us that independence is a quality to be admired, and that those who rely on others are weak or not responsible. Yet, when you step outside of North America there are cultures all over the world that are very communal. They rely on each other, sometimes even for meeting basic needs. There is a sense of obligation to one another and a sense of responsibility. This is just how it is. People from communal cultures often look at those of us from non-communal cultures as self-centered and they can’t understand why on earth we would want to live so much in isolation from one anther.

We all crave community to one extent or another, and that’s a good thing. It’s something that God has put in us, this need to need others. It’s funny how we drop that as soon as it comes to having our physical needs met though, isn’t it. I want community in an emotional sense, but I struggle to tell you that I might not be able to buy groceries today. When I worked at a church before coming to Haiti, we had a benevolent fund to help with community needs, and it was always so humbling to see how broken people were when they came to ask for help. Yes, some had an attitude of entitlement, but for others, it was the hardest thing they ever had to do.

But, that’s not what God wants for us, especially not when it comes to missions work. Over and over he calls us to love one another, to carry one another’s burdens, to pray, to feed, and to support each other.

And you know what, this is not just a Church problem. Nope, we missionaries are as much a part of the problem as anything. You see, if we feel uncomfortable sharing what our real needs are, how can the Church be the Church and do it’s part in the going and sending relationship?

Think about that for a second.

If you’re in the role of going, I’m going to talk to you for a few minutes here…

First off, I want to ask you what you are so uncomfortable about, in this whole sharing your needs thing?

Is it that you don’t like to tell people what you need?

I get not talking about money, but that’s not an excuse. You can share what your needs are, then let people ask specific questions or just give if they feel led. You can tell people that you will have living expenses to cover without going into detail about what that looks like down to the penny.

Is it that you struggle with actually needing to rely on others?

I get that too. Like I said, we’re taught to be independent and that’s a quality that’s respected. But I challenge you. Go to your Bible and see all the instances where God called people into community with one another. He did that because that’s how he designed us and that’s his ideal for us. He wants us to need each other because through people he can love us and show us his character.

Do you feel like the things that you might feel are needs are things that might be hard to explain to those that might send you?

Yep, get this too. And I’m actually going to hold off on this for a minute or two.

Whatever your reason for not wanting to raise support I want to challenge you to look at what God has given us as the example for missions work and the role of those who go and send, and then make a firm decision.

And you know what, maybe it’s not that you don’t want to, maybe it’s that you don’t really know how.

That’s a hard one too. Missions has changed a lot in the last 20-30 years. It used to be that families would go out to the field, and they would be gone for 4 years or so then they would come home and spend a year on home assignment, during which time they spent weekend after weekend visiting church after church in the hopes of raising more interest so people would financially support the work that was happening. And, as churches, this was our model for supporting missionaries. But things look differently now. Air travel means people don’t need to be gone for years at a time without some visible presence. The technology available means we can email supporters, post updates on social media and even call friends and family for free on things like Skype. We have zero excuse for not letting people be part of what we’re doing.

It’s our role to share with people what we’re up to, and what our needs are, and it’s God’s job to get people involved in that. If we make that decision for him ahead of time by not even being willing to share what we’re doing, then I need to question if we’re truly walking in obedience. He doesn’t call us to the mission field in a vacuum. And we aren’t the ones that get to determine who plays what role in things – that’s his job.

Let’s talk practicalities, because this is important. Maybe you DO want to raise support, but you aren’t sure of how to do that. These are just some ideas based on things that I’ve found to be important over the years:

First, you need to let people know you’re going.

Lots of ways to do this. You can put messages on Facebook and other social media sites, send out group emails and basically just spread the word about what you’re doing. When I was getting ready to come to Haiti I went through my address book, my parents address book and my church directory and sent a letter to anyone that I had a personal connection with that might be interested to know what I was doing. For some, it was just letting them know because I knew they would be excited for me. Others, it was because I knew they would find ways to be actively supportive of what I was doing.

Once you decide how to tell people what you’re doing, give them a way to stay connected with you.

Getting email addresses is one of the easiest ways to stay in touch with people. When I sent out my letters I asked people to send me an email if they wanted to keep getting updates once I was here because Haiti didn’t have a mail system. When my church announced that I was leaving the staff to come to Haiti they also posted something in the bulletin letting people know how to get added to that list. By the time I came to Haiti I had several hundred people on that list because they wanted to stay up to date with what was going on for me. If that’s not encouraging I don’t know what is.

Make sure you’ve talked with the organization that you’ll be working with about all things financial.

What are you responsible for, what will they cover, how do you pay for your part of things, and most of all, can people give through their organization to get tax receipts and direct their donations for your support? If so, where do they send it, how do they address it, etc? If not, then you need to look for other options such as your own church or perhaps an umbrella organization that exists to help missionaries out in this manner. There are a lot of options, you just need to see what best fits you.

Once you know that info SHARE IT.

Remember, it’s not your job to decide who and how people will support you, it’s your job to let them know what you’re doing, and what your needs are. Most times our family doesn’t talk about exact financial needs, but just shares that we’re here in a volunteer capacity and responsible for raising our financial support for personal needs and we let people know how to give to that if they want to. And let me tell you something else, you will be surprised at who chooses to support you. The people you will least expect are sometimes the greatest supporters. If you hadn’t given them the info, you may never have known this about them :)

Make a plan of how you want to stay in touch with your support base.

This is honestly one of the most important things for so many reasons. First off, remember that people care about you and want to know how you’re doing. Second of all, if you’re in this thing for the long haul, when you get several years into it you’ll come to understand how vital these people are. These are your prayer warriors, your carers, your encouragers, the people who will help with practical things when you come home on visits, etc. Keep them in the picture, and add to them as you expand your circle.

When I first got started I would just send an email from my Outlook. When Chris and I got married we combined our send lists and it resulted in having to do batch sends over two days. About a year and a half ago we switched over to using Mail Chimp, which is free and a great way to send good looking emails and not have to do logistical gymnastics. You can include support info in the footer, so it’s there for people, and you can share your updates on your social media feeds so people who might not be on your list can read and then subscribe to your list. Great resource!

Say “Thank You”.

And by this, I mean in a personal way like a thank you card with your actual signature on it. It might be difficult to do this regularly because of logistics, but when you’re able, sending a small note to let people know that you appreciate that they’ve supported you some how makes a big difference.

Now, every missionary does all of these things differently, and I know this list isn’t exhaustive. Just a starting point, really.

If you are writing any kind of update I want to encourage you to think about making it personal. What I mean by that is remembering that your initial list will be people that are in your life in some way. Typically the people that get added are people that you’ve met at some point, in some capacity. It’s okay to be personal. In fact, people love personal. Time and time again we have people tell us that they LOVE to read our updates because they are personal. They like that it feels like having a conversation with us, that they can learn a bit about Haiti, keep up with our family and still hear about ministry stuff. I’ve read a lot of updates from other missionaries over the years and I have to agree. Basically we always try to think about what would be interesting to us and what we would connect with, and we write from that perspective.

Blogging is another great way to keep people connected. Obviously it works because you’re reading this… ;)

I do want to take a moment to talk about something that I think we, the Church, need to be thinking about when we are sending things out to supporters and when we’re receiving things from those we support. It’s this…

How do we represent the places we’re called to and the people we’re called to serve well?

In the process of telling people what we’re doing, and keeping them updated, we’re going to have countless opportunities to share about the places we come to know as home, and the people God calls us to serve. For many of us, we find ourselves in places where we’ll be serving populations that would be considered “vulnerable” Maybe it’s extreme poverty, maybe it’s complicated cultural issues or history, or really any number of things. The bottom line is that we need to handle these stories and tellings with care.

First and foremost, these are the people God has called us to love and serve.

With that in mind, we need to have a firm idea of what that love looks like and what it means to truly serve in a Godly way. As you’re reading this I bet you’re thinking that you know what that looks like already, but I can promise you that any missionary in the field has been challenged in their views and has probably changed their definitions many times.

This is where I land on things (and I’ll admit that it’s something that I feel very strongly about):

God has called me to love my neighbor as myself. That is a really loaded thing when we put it in the context of working cross culturally or with vulnerable people.

If I love my neighbor as myself it means asking if what I’m sharing with my support base is something I would want someone sharing about me, even if the subject of the story may never know. It means being very careful about the photos I share, recognizing that there are times and situations where I wouldn’t want photos of my kids shared, or things about my life that might be very personal.

Please keep tracking with me here, because I know this is touchy, but I believe that we have a HUGE responsibility in this.

We are the ones with all the power in these situations. We see what we see. We have the means to record it and tell about it. We know that sharing this info and these photos might mean more support for the work we’re called to. But, if that’s where we land, then I need to ask a question:

How big is your God?

I ask that because sometimes the stories are not ours to tell. Sometimes loving our neighbor means knowing when to respect their privacy and it absolutely means treating them the way we would want to be treated. It means being sensitive to the things they might be sensitive about and not thinking that we have the right to tell their story, even if we believe our intentions are noble and right.

If I believe I am called to the mission field (or any other kind of ministry, really) and I believe that God calls me to love my neighbor as myself, then what does that love look like?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.           ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 

It doesn’t boast. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It always protects.

Wow.

So, if I’m walking in obedience and loving my neighbor then I need to honor them and protect them and not boast about or do anything that is self seeking.

Sometimes the stories are not ours to tell. 

I firmly believe that God wants us to serve and love the people he calls us to minister to, and for me that means being careful about the information and photos that I share. When we share things from the mission, we’ve deliberately chosen to avoid the “baby with the fly in it’s eye” type imagery because I think we can do better. It goes deep that that though…

If I truly that believe God has called me and that he will provide for me, then I shouldn’t have to rely on telling good stories and heart wrenching pictures to raise support. 

It’s a faith thing. If I truly believe that God will be God and do what he promises then I shouldn’t have to rely on those pictures and stories. 

I believe God honors our efforts to do better. To love better. To walk in character and integrity. We have refused large donations because of the motivation behind them, and I’ve gone head to head with organization leaders about images used in promotional materials because I know we can do better. As leaders in our organization Chris and I have chosen to put the needs of the Haitian people above the needs of any donor or what might bring in more donations. We are very selective about how we tell stories and what kind of images we use in everything we do. And I believe that God loves that. I believe that he loves that we want to do better and to love our neighbors well. I believe that because I have seen that he has continued to provide for our organization without us ever having to compromise and use the people that we’re called to serve to raise funds.

I know that’s heavy, but I think we need to talk about it. It needs to be said and we all, no matter where we fall in the going and sending spectrum, need to think about where we land on it. Part of the fuel for this problem is that we’re often so bombarded with asks and pleas for support that we wait for the things that truly tug at our hearts, and that’s often a sad story or an image.

And you know what? Shame on us.

We can do better.

This provides the perfect segue for the next post where we get to talk about the sending side of things… 

~Leslie