Rickshaws, Russian Vans and Why I'm a Lame Missionary

I’m the lamest missionary.


That’s pretty much how I see it this morning.

Hudson Taylor left England on a boat for China. When he said goodbye to his family (Father, Mother and beloved sister), he left with the understanding that he may very well never see them again. The proceeding suffering he experienced so that the undreached (NOT underreached … truly unreached) peoples in China could hear the Gospel is actually quite astounding. His persistance in language learning and stubborn refusal to quit is impressive at many levels. He traveled by rickshaw in heat and cold to villages and townships in the interior of China so that

At last week’s worship service at Cornerstone Church of All Nations, we were reminded of the Moravian missionaries who left Hernhutt, Germany and sold themselves into slavery in order to reach the African slaves of the Caribbean Islands of St. Tomas and St. Croix. While there is some possible “Christan Urban Legend” around the details of this event … the fact that these guys were willing to do such a thing, and more than likely died in the process, is convicting, as well as inspiring.

Missions history is strewn with such tales of hardship, bravery and sacrifice … and I like hearing about such stories. I’ve always liked hearing about such stories. The problem is that I’m not sure how crazy I am about being such a story.

Don’t get me wrong, Mongolia is not an easy place to live. Even my Mongolian friends say that Mongolia is not an easy place to live. It’s a place of harshness, from the climate to the culture. However, I’m not too worried about dying here. It’s true, I might die here. But that could be said of anywhere one might live. I miss my kids a lot … and hate that they live so far away from us. However, modern technology has equalized distances in many ways. While I don’t have the option of road tripping it over to Greenville, SC to see them, FaceTime makes it a lot easier. We have a nice apartment. We have food. We have clothing. Because of driving regulations we had to ride to church in a Russian Purgon yesterday. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, and we have been provided with a Range Rover to drive around in on normal traffic days.

I don’t suffer so much. My “missionary life” will not make for interesting missionary biography in the annuls of mission history. And there’s a real part of me that is very okay with that. The little bit of pain that I have suffered in my life is enough for me. If God does indeed only give us what we can handle … well, I’m a fairly lame missionary in those regards.

Paul was not lame. He suffered deeply for advance of the Gospel (like Hudson Taylor, the Moravian Brethren, and many others who followed him). For me it comes back to embracing Christ, and whatever comes our way because we follow Christ. Being content with little or much. Loving Jesus more than anything else is the important issue. To live - Christ. To die - gain … because that means more Christ.

I need this reminder today, as I enter into another week of work and service and following Jesus.

And I am unashamedly happy I don’t often have to drive a Russian van around for great distances and even happier that I don’t ever have to travel by rickshaw.


The "Ritual" of Prayer and Google Glasses

Technology makes the world an interesting place. Technology also makes the world a frightening place, and there are consequences, intended and unintended, to any new innovation. Google glasses being an example of how interpersonal relationships can go to a whole new level of weirdness.

Technology is a friend to those who are living far from home. Of course it’s also a potential double-crossing Judas … but perhaps that’s another article for another time.

Recently, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the ability I have to download an audio book, and listen while I walk or ride the Bus to the Grain of Wheat Center, or while I’m stuck in traffic on the busy UB streets, or while making a road trip to Darhan. This has been a blessing for me, which I’ve appreciated. I’ve listened to novels, non-fiction, biography … all kinds of things that I would have never had time to read. So that’s a great technological tool.

I recently listened to a book called The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz. While I would take issue with some of his evolutionistic worldview, I did find his writing and the premise of this book to be helpful and thought provoking. Time management is not nearly as important as “energy management” at every level of our humanity: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. One of the practical concepts Schwartz discusses in his writing has to do with the development and use of ritual as a means to manage and conserve our limited energy reserve.*

The idea of “ritual” in an age that’s drowning in information and with a drought of reflective thinking could be a repulsive thing. It is interesting the distaste that modern Christians in particular have to the word “ritual”. Our imaginations take us to some kind of weird and archaic temple where strange sacrifices are taking place, or perhaps to the practices of emotionally unstable potential serial killers. What Schwartz is talking about is developing habits and patterns in life that turn things which might be difficult or require a lot of will power into a habit that requires little to no “will power”. It’s just “what I do”. I like to think of it in terms of daily rhythems. Ritual is actually something the human brain is wired for, and once we understand this, it becomes a powerful thing.

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of prayer and other spiritual disciplines. The idea of rhythmic prayer is not a new at all. Nor is it confined to the Christian world. The Muslim faith has a well-known “ritual” of prayer. The beauty of Christian prayer is that we come through the completed work of Jesus, and have an Advocate and a Mediator.

Before the Throne of God Above
I have a strong, a perfect plea
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me

Seventh Century Celtic spirituality followed a prayer rhythem that involved morning prayers, midday prayers, evening prayers and complines. It wasn’t overly long or complicated prayer times. Much of the time it was just a pause to recite Scripture and to take a moment to look to God as the center of our day and of what we do for the day. This day. There is a simplicity and a natural beauty in this kind of daily, rhythmic spirituality that deeply appeals to me. It’s a practice I once walked in, to some extent. It’s a practice … a ritual, if you will … that I wish to walk in again. We should welcome a ritual like this and not be offended by such.

I am considering the implementation of a plan at our Center where we stop three times every day to pray. It doesn’t have to be long prayers. In fact, it shouldn’t. However, prayer should be fundamental to what we are doing in our work, and not simply an after thought. What if the entire work day schedule where centered around our prayer times, rather than trying to structure our prayers times into the work schedule? What if our calendars had prayer in integrated into our days on routine and regular times? I am completely convinced that if we do not plan to pray, we will not pray except in the direst of circumstances.

I know that not every work place can … or even should … incorporate prayer into the rhythem of the day. That is something we all have to figure out on our own. However, I think this is a pattern we can make happen at the Grain of Wheat Center. I want to experiment with a rhythem, where God is the first thing we think about in the morning, Who we turn in the heat of the day, and our last thought as we leave our work place in the evening.

Let the beauty of the Lord God be upon us.
Establish Thou the work of our hands;
Yes, establish Thou the work of our hands.
Psalm 90:17 from the Celtic Book of Prayer

*Schwartz sites quite a bit of research which has been done in the area of human nuero-science, and it’s fascinating to see the way we have been fearfully and wonderfully made (versus unintentionally and accidentally evolved). It’s an good read, and I do recommend it.


You can order SchWartz's book here: The Way We're Working Isn't Working

Also, for a rhythem of prayer that works, check out this Book. Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community. I still use this on a regular basis. Excellent patterns from a long heratige. 



When I tell people in America that I live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia it sounds exotic. Like living in Shambala, where everyone is happy and everyone is fine. It’s not true.

When people think of living life as an “expat”, I think there is automatic stereotype of exoticism that begins to grip people’s imagination. I know this from the questions I get when I visit churches. Do you eat weird things? What’s the strangest experience you’ve ever had? What’s your favorite color? (well … not so much the last one. Although, I did get that from a smart aleck kid in church once. I refused to answer.)

Amy Carmichael, who spent most of her life in “exotic” India rescuing children from temple prostitution, spent a great deal of her time changing diapers, and playing with babies. Hudson Taylor (whose extended biography I am in the middle of at the moment, writing for my Masters dissertation), founded the China Inland Mission in “exotic” China, and spent an enormous amount of time administrating and communicating, i.e., writing letters to the homeland. It’s not all spicy adventures and pith helmets. In fact, I don’t even own a pith helmet.

My days are often spent preparing lessons to teach my Leadership Training Class, or filling out the paperwork that’s required for that class. Grades, Reports. The Grain of Wheat Center is currently without a cleaner, so I am working with two students who are serving as “part-time” cleaners. There are rental calendars, maintenance forms, and team communications that need to be dealt with today. So ... that's pretty much what my day is looking like today. Not really all that exciting. 

Yet, here’s the thing.

Jesus said “As you go about doing what you do, make disciples.” (That’s my translation of the Matthew 28:19, commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”.) I spend time every day with a special group of people who work at the Grain of Wheat Center. I spend time every week with a bunch of students who enter into the Center for various events and activities that we run. The greatest priority of my life is to be walking with Jesus every day in an authentic and passionate manner, so that these students and staff can SEE Him. Christ in me. That’s my real work.




…and something you can do where ever you may live.



(and kudos to any of you get the "Three Dog Night" reference in this post...)


Snow, Smoke and Sun (Friday Photos)

This week winter has come back to UB. After a brief "warm-up" (it got above 0F in January, people!), we're back to the typical winter pattern. Cold, Smoke and Sun. 

"Spring" starts here a week from Monday, as the new Lunar year traditionally marks the start of Spring. 

My guess, however, is that we will have more of this for several more weeks.  



Here's the Friday Photo Gallery for your viewing pleasure: 


Missiotechnica: Three Apps for EVERY Worker

This geeky idea for a series on our blog is still very much being experimented with. Maybe it’s because I’m having to spend too much time by myself while my family is away. My staff is laughing at me, saying that I’m like a sad, old man who lives alone with a dog (They primarily said that after watching a video I made for my family while they were in NYC). Nevertheless, I am going to make another nerdy “Missiotechnica” post this week.

There are always new applications that I like to experiement around with. Just this week I discovered Squarespace Notes for IOS and was quite impressed with this. Still experimenting around to see if it becomes a part of the daily flow. However, today, I wanted to share with you three Apps that I couldn’t work without … and that I think every IW in the world should invest in. I suppose I’m giving free advertising to these developers. But, frankly, I’m happy to do it, as I really do use these things, and think they make for excellent … and dare I say ... even essential tools for folks who are working in a cross cultural context.

Note: none of these apps are free (at least the way I use them). However, there are some things in life that are worth paying for, and it’s my opnion that these are at least three of them. I also think you should pay for good coffee and fast Internet. But that’s a different issue for a different time.

  1. 1Password
    This is available for both my Mac and my iPhone. There are versions available for Windows and Android, as well. Here’s the deal with 1Passwowrd … not only should every IW have this on all of their computer equipment … everyone, everywhere should have this on all of their computer equipment. The concept is simple ... yet, in the day and age in which we live, it is essential. Too many people have one password that they use for their banking information, their social media accounts, Amazon, Ebay … whatever. One, most of the time relatively easy to guess password. The name of your cat. Your birthday. Your kid's names. "password" (Some of you are totally convicted right now, aren't you?) This is bad. Bad. Bad. If this is you, know this: you will eventually be one of those people who have to email all your friends notes of regret and apology because “I’ve been hacked” (I’ve actually received three of those emails from different people I know this week). 1Password lets you make highly complicated and convoluted passwords for your stuff, and securely holds that information for you. It will sync through Dropbox (next on my list) which allows you to use the IOS/Android or the desktop version on any other devices you may have. You have one password that you memorize (or write down somewhere) and you make crazy unguessable, unmemorizable passwords for all of your other stuff. You can also securely keep credit card numbers, addresses and other data stored in this virtual vault. It’s awesome. Seriously everyone needs this. I’ve tried similar apps that are free/open source … and have never really liked the way they operate. Some of them almost feel like malware, themselves. 1Password is the real deal, and in this day and age cyber-security is a non-negotiable. You need 1Password.

  2. Dropbox
    I use the heck out of Dropbox. This is one that you can definitely get for free. There is a free 2GB account, but if you refer friends and family to Dropbox you can get up to 18GB for free. I pay a small amount per month to use the 100GB plan. Dropbox basically creates a folder “out there somewhere” (i.e., “the cloud”), and you can then access that folder from any computer, anywhere. The “Dropbox folder” is placed in the list of folders on your computer, and it all just works. You can access your dropbox on a mobile device, or on any machine that you use. Anywhere. There is where the alchemy of Dropbox really shows up. I have an iMac at work and use a MacBook air at home and when traveling, as well as an iPhone 4. Sometimes I even get to use Renee’s iPad. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, whatever device I am using, I have complete access to my entire documents folder. Sharing is super easy, and the way Dropbox works is just … magical. I don’t think I could work without it, at this point. For those of us who travel around a lot, particualrly traveling on the field … being able to access all of my teaching documents, for example, no matter where I am is critical. Dropbox also makes for an excellent collaboration tool. My colleague in Darhan (or America ... whereever!) can make changes to documents in a shared folder that are instantly synced to my computer. Dropbox is a “must have” tool.

  3. Photo Editing Software (like Aperture or Adobe Lightroom)
    There will be another post coming in the next week or two about why IWs should work at taking better pictures. However, I will say … having a decent photo editor is essential. I don’t know what the default editor is in a Windows machine anymore, but every Mac will have iPhoto preloaded. That’s great. But it is limited (although the latest version does have better storage and organizing capabilities). I recommend one of these two. It’s a small investment that will have great returns. I’m a fan of Aperture for Mac. However, Adobe Lightroom is available for both PC and Mac and is alos a great photo editing tool. I don’t think it’s essential to have Photoshop. Most people don’t really even know how to use Photoshop, nor do they need it. One of these two applications will do two essential things:
    1. Organize your photos - this is a big deal when you are taking pictures that you need to find later. You can organize, tag and file all of your pictures. I believe both applicaitons also has other tools like face recognition, and ways to organize the metadata in your pictures. This is really important when you get back to your homeland and need to find pictures to put into slide presentations. Both applications also organize and store video clips, as well.
    2. Tweak your photos - Once you learn some of the basic tools you can make a mediocre photo look pretty good, and good photo look great. I do not advocate over processing pictures, but the beauty of digital photography is the fact that post processing is a possiblity for all. Learn to use the tools that are provided to make your pictures snap. 

Aperture is $80 bucks in the Mac App Store and I think Lightroom will set you back $150. However, I think having one of these two applications on your computer is an essential for the IW.

This is my opinion, only. There are lot’s of cool Apps … and depending on the specific kind of work you’re doing, you may need many others I don’t mention here. However, I think these three are pretty universal and should be a part of ever IW’s work flow.

What do you think?

What about you? Are there Apps on your computer that you can’t live without as an IW? Let me know what you think in the comments

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