A life dangling

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It’s been a couple months since Kati and I announced our plan to move to Portugal. In that time the support and encouragement has been overwhelming and we’re so thankful. At the same time, there have been moments when it’s obvious to me the limitations of understanding the missionary life from the outside. I grew up a missionary kid so to me it was just another viable vocational option. Only as time went by did I realize that being a missionary only made sense if it was absolutely a call from God, and even the call would need to be confirmed repeatedly along the way.

The term missionary has meant different things in different Christian traditions through Church history. Perhaps the simplest common denominator of Christian understanding of the term is a sent one. Barnabus and Paul were set apart and sent out by the church in Antioch for a specific work that the church community in that city deemed worthy and legitimate. I love the early teaching by Loren Cunningham “Go Means a Change of Location”, which I think sums up the most foundational aspect of missions: going. Of course there are home missions and foreing middions and urban missions and frontier missions. All are legitimate as long as some community of faith agrees that a work needs to be done and God has called some to do it.

But in this post I do want to focus on the crosscultural missionary. Unless you’ve lived crossculturally/internationally for long-term periods of time it’s very difficult to understand this lifestyle. Take the affects on your children. If your kids are born overseas they might look at their parents as fully adjusted to the context in which they were born. But at some point it dawns on missionary kids that mom, or dad, or both, are very different than them. Where is home? I represent the third generation of missionaries in my family and answering the question “where’s home?” is a tough one.

Point is, when talking to those who aren’t called to the our lifestyle we missionaries need to be a little guarded about some of the things we share and that we receive. I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, I certainly don’t believe that missionaries are in any way superior to any other disciples of Christ. If you’ve never pastored a church you’re limited in giving advice to pastors, if you’ve never been through a divorce you’re comrehension only goes so far.

Missionaries live a life dangling, we usually don’t know how long we’ll be in a determined context. If you have a crosscultural marriage you can never be certain that life will take root more in your culture or your spouse’s. It’s very hard to explain what this feels like and get good advice unless the person you’re talking to has lived the same experience long-term. Missions paradigms will change over the years but as long as the term refers to sent ones the church will need wisdom and comprehension in pastoring and supporting them effectively. The best approach? Probably listening mostly, and knowing that missionaries will need space for seasons of transition in a more exaggerated sense than those who live their entire lives within their home culture.

Uma vida pendurada

Faz alguns meses que eu e a Kati comunicamos à família e amigos a nossa decisão de nos mudar para Portugal.  Embora temos recebido muito encorajamento, houveram momentos em que percebemos a limitação da compreensão das pessoas em relação à vida missionária. 

“Missionário” significa diferentes coisas ao longo da história da Igreja, mas geralmente se refere a alguém que foi enviado para realizar um ministério específico.  Ser enviado na maioria das vezes queria dizer algo transcultural e internacional.  

A não ser que você tem experiência em missões transculturais é muito difícil compreender este estilo de vida.  Quando um casal missionário gera família no exterior seus filhos têm uma ligação àquela nação que os pais dificilmente terão.  Mesmo que eu passar 50 anos em outro país eu sempre serei um norte americano.  As pessoas podem dizer, “Davi você é um de nós”, o que é um grande carinho, porém eu não deixo de ser o que sou.  Nunca me transformarei em outra pessoa culturalmente 100%.

Os missionários vivem uma vida pendurada.  Nós geralmente não sabemos quanto tempo estaremos em determinado local.  Se você casar com estrangeiro isso será mais exagerado ainda.  Nunca vocês dois saberão em qual cultura passarão a maior parte da sua carreira juntos.  Para muitos casais transculturais missionárias um alternativo feliz é uma terceira cultura onde ninguém está “vencendo” por morar em sua cultura nativa.  

Qual é a melhor forma de encorajar uma família missionária?  A melhor abordagem geralmente é ouvir as estórias e experiências deles.  A melhor abordagem é lembrar que os missionários provavelmente passarão por mais fases de transição em suas vidas e que estas transições levarão mais tempo.  Muito tempo de transição mesmo, não uma vida normal, mas como qualquer vocação inspirada pelo Espirito Santo ela vale a pena se for tão somente para a glória e honra de Jesus Cristo.  

The blessing of silence

Em Português

Quarantine has been great for my running, gym is closed and surf is flat. I don’t know what’s going on with my phone but roaming data isn’t working. I went online and checked a bunch of things that it could be but no use, I’m stuck with 1:30 minutes of silence at 5:30 am.

I tend to think of my morning runs as part of my devotional life. I listen to the Bible, or bible teaching, or worship… but it’s a constant inflow of information and sound, not too conducive to talking with God.

Since my phone broke I’ve been talking to and hearing from the Lord a ton. It’s been so cool. I really need this as Kati and I plan and take steps towards our move to Portugal. The destabilization of a big decision like that has an aspect of euphoria and wonder in the beginning. Soon though the excitement is replaced with a low grade anxiety as regular routines lose their meaning in light of pending change. Don’t get me wrong (especially our financial partners), Kati and I have no problem staying busy with work and personal responsibilities every day. Actually one of the things that makes our move easier is that most of our work is currently not too location relevant.

But the silence on the road has offered a great opportunity or me to hear God’s voice like I haven’t done for quite a while.

A Bênção do Silêncio

A quarentena tem sido ótimo para as minhas corridas de manhã, enquanto a academia está fechada e quando não há ondas boas pra surfar.  Eu não sei o que está acontecendo com o meu iPhone mas o roaming data não está funcionando por alguns dias.  Eu fui online pra ver como resolver o problema mas ainda não consegui, e por isso me sobra uma corrida de 1:45 minutos em silêncio.  

Eu geralmente penso nas minhas corridas matinais como parte da minha vida devocional.  Eu escuto a Bíblia, ou pregação ou louvor… mas estou sempre escutando algo, que dificulta ouvir a voz de Deus se Ele quiser falar comigo.  

Desde que tenho esse problema com meu telefone eu tenho ouvido muito mais a voz de Deus nas minhas corridas.  Isso tem sido muito bom.  Eu e a Kati realmente precisamos ouvir ao Senhor neste tempo de planejar nossa mudança para Portugal.  No início quando nós tomamos uma decisão que mudará toda nossa vida é empolgante.  Porém em pouco tempo a euforia da novidade passa e vem uma ansiedade porque perdemos a rotina da vida diária, já que agora tudo vai mudar.  

Então em meio à toda essa turbulência eu estou feliz que meu iPhone parou de funcionar (pelo menos por enquanto). Porque está me forcando a passar mais tempo no silêncio com Deus.  

When God Leads Through the Squeeze

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“17 So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. 18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham,… 22 He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth,[e] saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” (Gen. 26)

Sometimes I wonder why I’m not more in tune with the prophetic. I was raised in a Christian community that emphasized the desire of God to lead our lives daily. My grandmother Joy used to use the example of Jesus saying that we live by the daily word of God to us just as we need bread for food. So true.

But we all experience how circumstances are also an undeniable part of the revelation of God’s will for our individual lives. This is true in every Christian’s life, but perhaps more for some than others, maybe we can call these the hard-headed ones.

Some of us just seem to have so much drive in us that we choose a direction in life, run after it like crazy, and turn a deaf ear to the voice of God. Many of us do this inadvertently, but it happens. Then it remains to God to remove His Grace and wait for us to run out of steam. God’s grace comes in so many forms – provision, opportunity, inexplainable joy, anointing, etc – and when it’s gone we know. You just get yourself into a situation that you can’t handle anymore. You’re in too deep and now you can’t even be what you need to be to those who depend on you.

Our sense of self-sufficiency is such an illusion. I think that missionaries have the privilege of experiencing this cross-culturally. It’s no exaggeration to say that the past year and a half that I’ve been back in the U.S. is just as hard of a transition as when I moved to Brazil in 2003. Kati and I were talking about how it feels to transition like this – new neighborhood, new church, new work, new weather, food, etc. I tried to put how it felt to me saying, “It feels cold”. We take for granted the warmth of the familiar – how it makes us feel significant, in control, and comfortable.

This is what God has to remove so His more strong willed children can be squeezed into the fulfillment of His promises lives. At these times we can cry out and say God make it quick, I want the transition to be over… please. But many of these turbulent souls are those the Father has chosen to lead others. The storm that rages within them can be an evergreen source of energy to inspire others towards the building of God’s kingdom.

So if you are like me, join me in praying that the Lord will continue to bless us in times of transition and teach us all we need to learn. Instead of praying that the transition be over sooner, let’s pray that we don’t miss anything the Father wants to teach us in the interim.

When we ask if God is with us?

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When God called Gideon In Judges 6 the future hero was hiding from those who were bullying Israel.  Gideon’s immediate response to God’s call was to ask, “How will I know you’re really with me on this Lord?”  If you were raised in church you’ll remember the Sunday school favorite of Gideon and the fleeces.

The simple point I want to emphasize here is that only when Gideon was challenged by God did he even care whether God was with him.

Like the loafer above, we all have moments when the presence of God with us is not even really on our minds.  When we’re in our comfort zones it doesn’t really seem to matter.

Speaking for myself, it seems like God has to keep me on a pretty short leash, dependence wise.  The minute I’m physically strong with extra money in the bank and plenty of work to keep me feeling productive I drift away from the question, “Is God with me?”

For 20+ years my vocation was pretty clear as a church planter and cross-cultural missionary.  But my new role as an assistant to my dad’s global ministry, and beginning to reach out to our local community has me nearer to God’s “apron strings” than I’ve been in a long time.

Is God with us?  Well He promised to be with us till the end of the age (Mat. 28), so really the question is whether we want to be with Him.  How much of His involvement do we want in our daily decision making?

Just now as I’ve been writing I received a text message with an invitation that I had to quickly bring before the Lord and decide on.  I quickly prayed and sensed God’s peace that this week I just simply couldn’t add anything to my plate.

That’s how I want God’s presence in my life to be, a constant gentle staff to guide me to the left or right, coaxing me forward or having me lie down in green pastures by still waters.

There’s nothing wrong with resting, even “loafing” on the couch at times.  But I thank the Lord for keeping me in a place of needing to know He’s with me… where I truly depend on His intervention… something I can count on as long as I simple desire Him and invite Him into my daily walk.

Seeking God in the Night Hours

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Psalm 119:147 “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words”

Our family’s recent relocation to the U.S. has been a euphoric whirlwind.  But after the initial excitement of change the harsh reality of life’s pressures – no matter where you are – are starting to get tough.

When I share with Americans about my 16 years in Brazil I would always sense their aversion to the economic and social chaos that exists Latin America.  Above all, the political corruption that trickles down to the streets in cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are things that most Americans look at and think, “Why would you want to live there, if you had a choice?”

But being back in America has made me aware of the very real pressures and challenges that we face here.  Oxnard, California where I live has miles of beautiful beaches, but most people I know here hardly ever get to enjoy them.  Most everyone is so busy frantically trying to survive, especially the parents.  Even if you decide to be an ascetic hippy your kids will probably be sucked into the consumer machine… and it seems like many American parents have to keep worrying about their kids needs into their 30s and 40s.

While I’m occupied with work and family responsibilities I generally deal pretty well with the anxiety seething in my subconscious.  Most nights however there is a moment that I wake up and really ponder the worst outcomes of my current challenges and the fact that I really can’t deal with that.  In other words, if the worst happens I’m not going to be OK.  These are my thoughts most nights at 2:00 am.

Thankfully most nights I can can just sat a quick prayer and pass out again, or maybe listen to a boring How Stuff Works podcast to put me to sleep.  But once or twice a week the anxiety is too much and the only thing I can do is begin praying.

Sometimes I pray for half and hour, sometimes an hour.  Sometimes I drift in and out of sleep and prayer in a seamless journey through the night.  But inevitably the promise of Philipians 4:6,7 proves true: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus“.

Sometimes it takes half an hour, rare times maybe 2 hours, but the peace of God always comes.  I believe in the importance of a disciplined prayer and devotional life, waking up early, etc.  But the impromptu prayer times of the wee hours of the night can also be times when we experience the Father’s embrace in a wonderful way.  And I’m so thankful He’s there because tomorrow I’m going to need a lot of energy… sufficient to each day are the evils thereof.

When heterosexuality repulses

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This week I was on my daily run, just kidding, I wish it was daily, and I saw something that made me sympathize with homosexual perceptions.  A young couple – two women, apparently lesbians – was walking hand-in-hand through a park.  Since I’m such a fast runner I left them far behind in a moment.  But no sooner had I passed them that I saw two young men doing a photo shoot.  The scene consisted of two girls in bikinis, won’t describe it further than that, just to say that it was not in “good taste”.  In other words, the nature of the photo op was one that any passer by would feel like they’d walked in on a scene that was very inappropriate in those surroundings.

No sooner had I passed the photographers and muses by that I thought of the young lesbian couple who would come across the same scene in a few seconds.  They would see an example of the base objectification of women that characterizes men’s attitudes towards women the world over.  My thought was that the two young women would see the scene and look at each other with a knowing, “And that’s why we’ve opted for the sexual orientation we have”.

A few days later I was listening to an audio narration of the book of Romans.  Several places Paul references homosexuality in the context of the consequences of sin, i.e. man’s perversion as a result of rejecting God.  I was thinking that a Christian can only reconcile homosexuality with the historic Christian faith without problem if they are not regularly exposed to Scripture.  My point here is not to go into the specifics of my own convictions regarding homosexuality, only to say that the Bible is not silent on the subject and its commentary is generally negative.

My point is that my heart went out to the young lesbian couple – their perception of the salacious scene and its impact on them.  And I felt ashamed as a man, identifying myself with the behavior of the male photographers.

Surely a man’s thought life and what he sets his eyes on are things only known to himself and God.  Every man knows temptation, and God’s desire is that every man enjoy the gift of sexuality, unless they are graced to live without.  That day I was running in the park I was inspired – as the father of two girls – to be an example of what God intends that men’s attitudes towards women be.

The Next Christendom

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The Next Christendom is an influential book by author Phillip Jenkins that explores the current and future leadership of worldwide Christianity.  He uses the term “Global South” to describe the center of future Christian leadership, referring to where Christianity is most present and growing as a demographic and cultural force.  The Global South refers roughly to Latin America, Africa and and parts of Asia.

For a missionary to relocate to his or her home country for a season messes with their identity.  Probably the number one attraction to missions besides the general heart for promoting the Kingdom of god is the passion for cross-cultural engagement.  So in order to continue engaging cross-culturally I have immersed myself in Spanish language study. As an introvert I learn language mainly through individual practice of reading and listening.  Once I reach a level of proficiency I move on to conversation and writing.  This is how it was for me during the past 19 years I became fluent in Portuguese.

What I want to write about here is the wonderful flavor I sense as I experience the Latin-American Church in Southern California through Christian radio.  I’ve been busy will a lot of remodeling and renovation projects lately and have been listening to several hours of Spanish Christian radio most weekdays.  One of the things that most impresses me by the radio programming is how conservative and orthodox it is as opposed to a lot of “mainstream” Christian American radio programming.

It is very common to hear testimonies and preaching about spiritual warfare, homosexuality, the necessity of conversion, etc… in a clear and unapologetic way.  This programming reminds me of the pentecostal Christian context that I was raised in.  Phillip Jenkins states that the Christian Global South is conservative and charismatic (regarding the gifts of the Spirit, spiritual warfare, etc).  The typical Christian in the world today, and increasingly in the future is a woman of color from a developing nation.

After 4 and 1/2 years at a North America seminary, which was a great experience, it is great to be influenced by the clear gospel I see represented by the Spanish-speaking Church in Southern California.

One last thing I want to mention is the love I witness in these programs for the United States as a nation.  There is so much mobilization for prayer for the nation, and informative updates regarding how the Church at large should be in prayer for the sphere of politics and education.

Please pray for my Spanish-language studies, I believe that this will be an important tool for future ministry trips to the Iberian Peninsula.

Retendo algo sem abrir mão de outra

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“É bom reter uma coisa e não abrir mão da outra, pois quem teme a Deus evitará ambos os extremos” (Eclesiastes 7:18)

Eu e Kati nunca nos encaixamos nos padrões tradicionais de ministério cristão. Durante 20 anos trabalhando na implantação de igrejas nós nunca recebemos salário maior que 25% do nosso orçamento familiar. Quando Deus me chamou para ser pastor eu até pensei, “Quem sabe eu não me torno o líder de um ministério grande que pode alcançar uma influência global… muitas atividades, um fundo ministerial para viajar o mundo, etc”. Mas comigo não foi assim!

Por causa da necessidade por mais sustento financeiro, também continuei a servir ministérios fora da igreja local, principalmente a JOCUM. Desse jeito eu podia continuar a levantar sustento missionário para cobrir as despesas da nossa família e perseverar na implantação de igrejas. Fomos conduzidos, não só pelas necessidades, mas também em oração para entender de Deus outras fontes de provisão que poderiam aparecer… ou não.

Na JOCUM , eu e a Kati fomos sempre missionários de “meio-período” porque tínhamos que nos dividir entre a missão e a igreja. Essa situação limitou bastante a nossa agilidade de levantar sustento. Não podíamos viajar muito, o que é essencial para o ministério que depende de parcerias financeiras na missão transcultural.

Nesse período, eu e a Kati começamos a sentir que o que nós estávamos vivendo representava um grande movimento “tectônico” em missões na nossa geração: a descentralização de liderança e a exaltação dos leigos.

Sempre que estávamos ensinando novos líderes em escolas ministeriais,  percebemos a necessidade de um “destino” mais abrangente para enviá-los. A maioria destes candidatos não queriam ser pastores ou missionários na definição mais tradicional. Entendemos que os líderes emergentes da geração milenar queriam servir a Deus através daquilo que a sociedade ocidental considera  ser  “uma vocação secular”.

Foi aí, que eu e a Kati compreendemos a urgência de não só praticarmos aquilo que estávamos pregando, mas também de nos envolvermos pessoalmente nas esferas da sociedade. Não estou dizendo que obreiros de agências missionárias e líderes eclesiásticos não estão inseridos na sociedade. Apenas relato aqui o que eu percebi em relação a essa geração emergente: o chamado que se destacava deste povo era redimir as vocações seculares por um propósito missional. E eu e a Kati queríamos fazer parte disso! Jamais teríamos autoridade para encorajar esta nova geração, em uma nova direção, se nós mesmos também, não a encarnássemos.

Agora, já faz mais de 10 anos que abraçamos essa mudança de paradigma – o que nós chamamos de “multivocacional”. Às vezes olhamos para trás com saudade da definição simples dos papéis mais tradicionais de liderança espiritual: “pastor”, “missionário”, etc. Navegar missões sem fins lucrativos, servir a igreja local, empreendimentos como negócios, a vida familiar e o mais importante – o relacionamento com Jesus – às vezes parece muito complicado. E percebo que, pelo menos no nosso caso, navegar constantemente entre papéis (funções) diferentes significa que os frutos crescem mais devagar. É assim quando cultivamos várias árvores no mesmo tempo.

O meu desejo é que o que escrevo aqui sirva como encorajamento para qualquer pessoa que se encontra no mesmo lugar, ou algo parecido. Você às vezes questiona a sua “identidade ministerial”? Bem-vindo à mudança de paradigma do terceiro milénio, e  abrace isso! E se você tem uma posição de liderança mais tradicional, abrace isto também, e por favor tente compreender as diversas novas formas de ministério que surgirão em sua volta…  novas e diversas formas de ser líder cristão… novas e diversas formas de ser missionário de Jesus.

David Dawson

Grasping while not letting go

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“It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them” (Ecc. 7:18 NAS)

My wife and I have never fit neatly into mainstream Christian ministry vocations.  During our 20 years of churchplanting the most we ever received in the form of a church salary was 25% of our family budget.  When God called me to be a pastor I thought just maybe I would become the leader of a large ministry that could provide me with a large salary and expense account.  Maybe pastoral ministry would slingshot me into the global influence I dreamed of.  Never happened.

In part because of the need for extra missionary support I kept serving an international missions organization as well (YWAM), by which I could continue to raise financial support so our family and ministry could survive.  I say “in part” because I like to think that God was guiding Kati and I through this whole process of finding our fit in ministry. But in retrospect I can see how God often led us through practical realities as well: what we needed and where provision came from.

But at best Kati and I were “part-time” YWAMers because when we weren’t leading and teaching in UofN schools we were pastoring churches.  This significantly limited our ability to be mobile – to go to all the strategic conferences and meetings that are the bread-and-butter of cross-cultural missionaries.

Then there was the fact that more and more we sensed what we believe is the major tectonic shift in Christian ministry in our generation: decentralization and the emergence of the laity.  When teaching new leaders in the church or missions agency environments, Kati and I incredibly became convinced that the main need was for a broad scope of sending out.  And most of the young people we discipled wanted to serve God through a what Western society considers a secular vocation.

So Kati and I also felt a divine pressure to practice what we preached and be engaged in the spheres of society as well.  This is not to say that missions agency workers and church leaders aren’t engaged in society.  But the wave all around us was one of young people redeeming the secular vocations for missional purpose, and we wanted to be a part of it.  We wanted to have the authority to say we agreed with what we considered to be the greatest paradigm shift in ministry of our generation.  And this authority would only come from our being practitioners as well as propagators.

But now 10 or so years into this paradigm shift – what we call multivocational – we sometimes look back longing for the simplicity of traditional ministry roles such as pastor and missionary.  Having to constantly navigate different roles is exhausting and the fruit grows slower because your tending to several trees at the same time.

So that’s my rant and my encouragement to anyone who finds themselves in the same place.  Do you question your identity?  Do you find yourself having difficulty in defining who you are on a tax return?  Welcome to the missional paradigm shift of the 3rd millennium, and embrace it!  And if you find yourself in a more traditional ministry role, embrace that too, with a generosity of comprehension to different and new forms that will increasingly crop up around you.  Different and new forms of Christian leader, different and new forms of missionary.

David Dawson

One month for every year abroad

This blog focuses on the ever-changing nature of service to Christ, specifically the multi-vocational minister coming into new prominence at the dawn of the 3rd millennium.

Last year I finished a Master of Arts in Global Leadership at Fuller Seminary.  I’ll never forget an article I read that stated that the World War II generation tended to work in one profession / company their whole lives, baby-boomers one profession / perhaps multiple companies, and gen-x changing profession several times during their careers.  Of millennial it was said that the 10 most popular jobs among them didn’t even exist in 2000, and that they changed professions about ever 2 to 5 years.

As I have taught on missions and spiritual leadership around the world over the past 24 years, I’ve often felt the tension between generations regarding persevering and maintaining focus on one’s calling.  My wife and my journey has included times when we received 100% of our financial support from donors, times when we did part-time for-profit work and times when we received salaries from our ministry positions.

In addition to this my wife and I have the destabilizing factor of long-term cross-cultural missions.  It’s been three months since our family relocated to the U.S. to, among other things, assist my father in his global ministry.  It’s amazing how missionaries underestimate the time of readjusting to and from cross-cultural contexts.  Nowadays I’m thinking that if I spent 16 years in Brazil perhaps it will take 16 months to readjust to life in the U.S.  As Kati and I return to the U.S. we have three children with us who only know America from annual trips for Christmas.

I believe that God is very gentle with us, leading us, “with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.  To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them” (Hos. 11:4).  The only way to survive in missions and ministry in the quickly changing world we live in is to receive God’s grace for times of transition.  Many voices around us will bring confusion as they try, with the best intentions, to settle and establish our lives in a way that is acceptable to a specific cultural context.  But the Father’s voice leads us in a direction that will at times challenge societal norms… and that will lead to a life of extraordinary adventure in His global Kingdom.