Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Hi Dave,

 I have some questions that have been on my mind as I’m considering my future and where
I would like to be both professionally and personally, and if that is in line with a life of mission work.

Feel free to answer whenever you can. I appreciate ANY insights you can provide. Of course, I am using this time to prayerfully consider any option and door that God may open. I trust him completely and am focusing on letting go of ME choosing this and letting GOD call me. But I am absolutely interested in your own personal experience. Thanks for taking the time to do so – I do appreciate it!

1.    In doing mission work, what is the most important thing you’ve learned?

God is living and active.    He is sovereign.    He guides history.    As missionaries we must have a sense of God’s movement and respond to what God is already doing.   Some boil this down to “discerning” through prayer, stillness, and waiting.   I think they make great Biblical points.     Yet, sometimes in the pursuing the mysterious ways of God we miss His practical whispers.  

My missionary mentors taught that we see God’s movement by watching for two matters. 

  First, where do we expect to find receptive fields?    Since God is living and active He prepares fields for harvest.    We should prioritize those fields that are receptive.   We can discern receptivity through things such as cultural transitions, openness to spiritual conversations, churches that are growing in a location, but also places where there are few vibrant churches – and thus a need for more missionaries.  

Second, we should be looking for places where “relationship webs” intersect and multiply.    The older generation saw this as places where friends and family members geographically clustered.    Today we’d use the term “social network.”    Facebook and twitter make this easier to see.   It is hard to get a good Gospel hearing when we are a stranger.    Receptivity increases when we have a community prepared by others’ relationships.

Divine appointments are where we see receptivity meet with relationship webs. We realize, “This is God’s.”   We respond to His movements. 

2.    The most surprising?

God’s grace.    Missionaries tend to be strong personalities – driven, starter, entrepreneurial
types.    Left to our own devices we fit the psych profile of white collar criminals.    Our tendency to start means we’re assured and confident.   We struggle with pride.    We make many mistakes of action.     When we realize how abundant are our failures, and yet God still uses us it is an overwhelming surprise.   God’s grace is the surprise over and over again.

3.    What does being a “successful” missionary look like?

To at the end of this season in eternity hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”    Until then chasing “success” is sure to be an exercise in frustration and futility.  

4.    How did you feel led – and how do you continually feel called to be a missionary? What does it feel like?

August 1996 - Jana pregnant with Ethan.   Me a herniated disc
I think the most predominant feelings of being led are ones of deep pain.    That probably goes against the grain with most contemporary American Evangelical pop cultures on being called to be a missionary.

Let me start with definitions.   I think to be a missionary is one sent by the Holy Spirit to make disciples, develop churches, and usher in new kingdom possibilities.    I think that definition fits well with Acts.   Most English New Testaments don’t use the word “missionary.”   It comes from “apostolos” in Greek and is transliterated “apostle.”    The arrogant missionary thinks he’s got the spiritual authority of the Apostle Paul.    In reality he may just be psycho.    Yet, I do think if we carefully read the New Testament we’ll find times where the “apostle” is just an ordinary sent missionary.   I think being a missionary is a specific spiritual gift / call.   All Christians are called to speak good words for the Lord, but not all Christians are missionaries.    Just like we’re not all worship leaders or church treasurers.    I think a big mistake of contemporary discussions is when everyone becomes a missionary.   In reality if everyone is a missionary no one is a missionary.

In both the Old and New Testament we see a general pattern of calling.   It starts with a community in crisis.   While the crisis is brewing God is preparing one to lead the community through the crisis.    The preparation is painful and humbling.    Then God whispers “Leave home.   Go.   Trust Me.”   The called one thinks, “Surely not me, God.”    Then painful wrestling happens.

If you don’t feel painful preparation and wrestling I don’t think you’re called to be a missionary.

The process is ongoing.   For instance, a called missionary must be compassionate.    He must grief over his own sin.    He must also grief over the effects of sin in the community to which he is called.  

Out of that pain comes determination and resolve to stay the course.  

5.    How can you determine if mission work is a good fit for you? 

Give it a try as an intern with seasoned missionary mentor.    Can you see yourself in their shoes
Jana with our foster son, Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs
as time goes on?   

 Don’t fall into the contemporary short-term missions’ traps of seeing if you can execute a successful project outside of your cultural context.    Most of the projects are probably irrelevant other than for a power point, blog, and Facebook photo.   The big picture issue will be can you form relationships outside of your cultural understanding.   If so, mission work may be a good fit for you.

Next, what does the mentor think of you?

Then, what do the people you are serving think?   Can you adapt quickly?    Are you able to pick up new cultural cues?  Do they want you to come back?   (But make sure you’re not hanging out with conmen and opportunists who only want to work you for money and connections.)

6.    In the field, what would your average day be like?

An Average Missionary Day
I wish there was such a thing as an “average day.”     There will be some seasons where you establish rhythms and routines.    However, if you need a detailed rhythm and routine to function well you may not have the personality type of a missionary.

One missionary mentor told me, “What is needed is to know exactly what you want to accomplish, but be very flexible to get there.”    Being able to be proactive when life is chaotic and ambiguous is a must.

However, here is what an “average” day would look like for me.    I’m an early riser so discount the early morning points if you’re a night owl.   (Give your best times of the day to the Lord.)

I’m usually up an hour before sunrise.  Ideally, I check email, Facebook, and Twitter to get a feel for what the day is looking like, read a chapter or so in the Bible, and then go exercise.    I get home, eat breakfast, and then get the kids to school.

From there it is adjustment.    I may be preparing lessons, corresponding, and catching up on finances.    Then I’ll have lots of visits.   I like to keep somewhat of a schedule, but sickness, death, and crisis are unpredictable.   I may have to drop everything to help a friend.

I liked to wind down my day around 3 to 4 p.m., get the kids, have dinner as a family, go play with the kids, and then later in the evening I’d frequently go out visiting in people’s homes, hospitals, or church meetings.

I like to be home by 9 p.m. and fall asleep pretty soundly.

Sometimes I get a season where I have weeks with not much to do.    Sometimes I get months of scratching my head about what is next.   In those seasons I try to focus on preparing my mind, body, and spirit for the next season that goes hard.

Then you may get a couple of years where the days start at 4:00 a.m. and end at 11:00 p.m., and you only get a day or two completely off every couple of months.

Ideally, practice Sabbath, but sometimes Sabbath comes as a year instead of a day.

7.    What kind of things did you do?

I am a church planter.    Yet, the kingdom required more than just starting and operating a
Dave and Sophia at Kampala Kids League, 1998
church in our context.
    (In fact, I think in some ways the West has so compartmentalized the church [with the acceptance of church leaders] that church irrelevance to culture is the only realistic possibility.) 
Thus I taught ethics at universities, coached kids sports, wrote columns, did radio, ran scholarship programs, and started a school and a library.   I had lots of fun, made lots of friends, and taught about Jesus along the way.   I can’t wait to see what is next.

8.    How were you able to be supported? 

I was and am a “faith missionary.”   I function with no guaranteed salary.   I largely live on the free will offerings of friends, family, and churches.   Occasionally, I’ve had support from trusts.   There have been seasons where the support has been consistent.    There have been seasons where the support has been sporadic.     There have been seasons where we have had money in the bank.   There have been seasons where our credit cards are maxed out and I don’t know how I’m going to buy groceries.

Puppies sometimes pay the bills plus bring joy
I don’t buy the simple trite phrases about faith and money.     Yet, God has been and always will be faithful.    Yet, His people are not always faithful and sometimes missionaries suffer because His people make poor choices.

I’ve also sold puppies and cars, lectured at universities, and picked up consulting fees to pay the bills.
Jana has baby sat and facilitated adoptions for some financial resources.  

I’ve had a few people suggest I use my insider knowledge of East Africa to make a living, but I find those options to be ones that would involve betraying pastoral confidence.   I pastor first and trust God to provide.

Support is an area that weeds out missionaries.

9.    Do missionaries discern which area they would like to work (for example, mentoring or development for example) and are placed in a particular church based project?

Good question.    It probably depends a lot on the sending organization.   Some give very
Praying for discernment with Joel Wright and Jacob Zikuzooka
detailed plans for missionaries to execute.    Some just send and the missionary makes it up.
I’m a strong believer in missions being “field directed.”     I think those on the mission field should provide the bulk of the discernment and leadership.   I’m resistant to missions that are “office directed.”   I think office directed missions frequently miss context and I’ve also noticed when the office goes through transitions it usually brings great turmoil for the on field missionaries.  
With my definition of a missionary it would be difficult to be a missionary and not be in some ways actively engaged in developing local churches.  

A few months ago I heard a Ugandan Catholic nun take issue with church “projects.”   She pointed out a Western desire to have a start and stop point, measurable results, etc…    Yet, the reality is that many issues of humanity take years to generations to address.   She advocated church “programs” where what is good and true is done over and over again until destructive cycles are broken and enduring systems built.    Programs take immense time and commitment.
I think a faith based field driven missionary is probably the most likely expatriate to discern and endure to reach a point of long term effectiveness. 

10.  How does finding the right church/mission program work?

I’m still a newbie in this area.    We’ve gone through a few churches, tried to start our own organization, and not found an enduring fit yet in over 20 years.

To keep myself from becoming bitter I’ve gone back to missionary disciplines.    The last 20 years have been one of great turmoil in North American churches and missions.   There is a lot of blood on the ground.  Thus be very careful in with whom you covenant.   Also, be very gracious.   Love your senders as much as you love those you serve.   Both have failings that need Gospel answers.   

If you are looking at options I’d look for things like an organization’s faith statement.   I’d dig into their vision and make sure it was compatible to where I sensed God was leading.   I’d look for a proven track record of pastoring missionaries.   I’d want to see what missionaries on both ends of the spectrum thought.   How did new missionaries feel mentored and shepherded by the older ones?   How did the older ones feel respected?    Is this mission capable of maintaining missionary families through a lifetime career?

I’d be very cautious to get involved with a mission that was office driven.   I’d be tempted if I was offered a missions position where the salary was guaranteed, but also notice that most of the guaranteed salary missionaries I’ve known are rarely allowed to be so entrepreneurial that they make great impacts in the country they serve.   

 I hope this has been helpful.   Thanks for asking.   I feel honored that you’ve asked my thoughts.  
Keep praying.   God is living and active.   He will open a door.
God bless.   Feel free to call me if you want to talk or feel free to stop by Chicago and we could visit face to face.

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