Travel Resources from 2020

I’m always devouring resources, whether books, podcasts or videos and 2020 has been no different. In fact, with Covid19, it means there has been more opportunity to stop, reflect and read (though I haven’t used that to the full!). There have been several requests for me to list what I’ve read here, though I have to admit I’m a little reluctant. So instead I’ll draw up a few resources I discovered this year that I think travelling people should be aware of, combined with a few resources that Christians who travel might like to engage with to give themselves a good foundation in their faith. Discovered useful resources this year that might help the traveller? I’d love to hear from you!

[For those that are books, please support your local bookshop and not the richest man in the world (Amazon) or the big corporations online who seek to control the market and decide what gets stocked.]

In no particular order:

  1. The Meaning of Travel (Thomas, 2020)
    Not often does a title come out specifically about a philosophy of travel, so when it does, I jump on it. This was a stimulating read for myself, and also as a global book club during lockdown. For the average traveller, it’ll raise fascinating questions but also lots of relatively obscure philosophy that you may or may not want to engage with! Emily writes from a secular point of view, as a lecturer in Durham.
  2. Don’t Go There (Fletcher, 2018)
    Sometimes you just want some fun travel stories that will mention things you didn’t know, show you new angles on old places, or just give you a chuckle. Fletcher writes well, and if you can put up with a few minor digs at religion (which I hope you can), you’ll find some juicy quotations randomly appearing about all sorts of things. One about true community being found in not just living for the next travel adventure. You’ll not find much new here in the travel writing market, but a few quid on Kindle was worth the chuckle. I’m sure there are many similar options out there!
  3. Prayercast world prayer video resources
    You don’t need to agree with every word on every video in order to find these a superb way to gain insights into places and people of the world, and how we can best pray for them. Watch one each day, use them in prayer meetings, or pop on to get insights into a country you’ve just started thinking about – these videos will fuel your prayers and help you worship. Rather than prayer meetings praying for random places that no-one knows anything about and praying “God bless place X”, you can now pray in more informed and imaginative ways for God’s glory across the globe. Check them out!
  4. Prisoners of Geography (Marshall, 2016)
    I’ve come late to this one, but this book on political geography from an ex-British army/intelligence worker, really started to open my eyes to some world events and why some countries are getting away with horrendous abuse of power, and why others seem to be scrapping over nothing. Have a world map open next to you as you read, and you’re sure to learn something new. It’s written from a very western point of view, but granted that, it has shaped my understanding considerably.
  5. The Book of Bivvy (Turnbull, 2007)
    Many people (if you’re like me) will not have heard about “bivvy bags” and those who have, may quickly move the conversation on and see no desire in the world that would make them try sleeping in a bag under the stars. Tents are already a step too far for some! Turnbull writes well and helps us see why many ‘Bivvy’ and how to go about that. We’ll see whether it remains simply a read book on my shelf, or a manual which I take and use!
  6. Microadventures (Humphreys, 2014)
    I needn’t say too much about this, having penned about micro-adventures alot this year. But there’s been no better antidote to being stuck in a 5k lockdown, than seeing our local world with new eyes and not getting disgruntled.
  7. Church in Chains updates
    I would hope that no Christian traveller can be passionate about travelling the globe without an awareness of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe who are persecuted every week for His name. Does this reflect how we travel, where we spend money and how we live? What a privilege to learn from their example, to be shaken from our comfortable western existence, and to bring them before our Heavenly Father. Church in Chains is an Irish charity who does that, but there are others across the globe near you – perhaps Open Doors, Release International, the Barnabas Fund or others. They all have fractionally different emphases, so take a look around and see who you can connect with to help shape your perspective on travelling the world as a Christian.
  8. Manage your money like a ******* grownup (Beckbessinger, 2019)
    (Please excuse the title.) A book that every student should receive upon graduation. So why do I include it in here? Well, although travel need not cost much, I do know many of my travelling friends who, in their dream to travel full-time, not be the wisest about investing for the future. Equally I know many who don’t travel, simply because they think they don’t have the money. I don’t agree about everything in this book, but I don’t really know another like it to help us all see clearly what may or may not be wise.
  9. The SpeakLife (YouTube) Podcast (but in particular this episode and this episode)
    Glenn Scrivener has hit lockdown gold! In attempt to get back to a great confidence in the foundations the Bible lays down in Genesis 1-3, he interviews a range of Christian, secular and religious figures from round the world. Of particular note (to me anyway) are Tom Holland and Douglas Murray. Secular historian Tom Holland has written “Dominion” this year, which makes the case that the moral foundation for our whole liberal society and worldview is only found in the Christian message and can be traced back to that period. Quite remarkable, if true.

    Douglas Murray’s interview is remarkable for other reasons. Glenn helpfully brings out that in the (post?) post-modern world, where there is no longer perceived to be an objective moral standard or way of seeing the world, then something will always try and replace god/God or the thing that used to give us those standards. So now we see politics trying to fill that role more and more. And that has huge dangers. One being that whatever (version of politics) seeks to be top spot will always try and vilify the “other” in order to succeed. Thus one of the key things for the next decade will be to help the church navigate how to engage well in politics. Stay out of it, and you not only lose a voice, but can’t speak to anything of the current worldview. Go in with the wrong priorities, or for one party only, and God’s word get mightily confused with human priorities and good news gets drowned.

  10. The Equip Project Podcast (Season 2 Episode 5 – the Future of Evangelicalism)
    When you’re on the road it’s easy to react to what you were brought up with, or become a Christian who is quicker to say what they aren’t (‘we’re not one of those type of Christians’) than what they are (we are in Christ, we experience the scriptures as the word of God, we confess our sinfulness to [God and to] each other, we look to the cross, resurrection and ascension etc.). We start to become consumers rather than partakers. We get the best of world Christianity and leave the rest behind. In this podcast episode, the Chairman of the organisation I used to work for, chats to his church intern about the future of evangelicalism in the West. Setting aside specifics of timeline and personality, I think the main points of this deserve to be heard by a far wider audience. As travellers, we must admit the extreme risk of not committing to a local church community. Having expectations of smallscale suffering in a “1 Peter” way may help us as we otherwise may seek affluent lives, devoid of suffering.
  11. “Majority world” theologians
    Increasingly I’m enjoying reading far more church history and authors from past years, as well as authors from across the globe in places that radically change my western blindspots, and teach me lots about what the future of the Church will be like. Doing this more and more this year has humbled me to realise just how God is working across the globe, how western individuals like me aren’t indispensable (duh!) and how glorious God’s picture of a multi-ethnic family of God is. As I don’t enjoy living that out as much as I ought, I’ve been enjoying lots of resources from the Majority World this year. Here’s one from The Global Church Project (interviewing Harvey Kwiyani) which I discovered this year. I also try and have one Langham Publication on the go every few months, as they seek to develop the voices of lesser-known indigenous authors. In a year where many have raised “race” issues, one of the ways I’ve tried to respond is to better shape my life round sitting at the feet of those of other races in the Church (and outside of it), both in person and through my learning.
  12. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Trueman, 2020)
    This will doubtless be one of my top reads of the next few months (I’m hoping Santa will bring it!). But Carl can be found helping us think through this key topic of the “self” in video format too. On the Gospel Coalition he summarises the book in an hour-long interview. And if you want more, there’s a full series of short lectures here. With the travel narrative using “finding ourselves” as a main reason to travel, a robust theology of the ‘self’ is needed as we work out what is cultural and what is Biblical about the self. Carl is an academic, but these bite-sized chunks are hopefully manageable. Books like this would also have been excellent for undergraduate me, before I started trying to grapple with philosophy from a Christian perspective.

    It does come with a warning from me though – for travellers, you’ll not be able to read this without being profoundly challenged and realising that lots of what you think about travel, is not helpful (or true) as followers of Jesus. It is not a light, practical “how to travel better” book, but one which examines the very embedded structure of our lives and seeks to speak into that. But the great thing, is that Carl doesn’t write polemically. He seeks to best represent the people he is talking about, putting their arguments in the strongest ways, so that even those who disagree with him, will be nodding along all the way until the final chapter. In that way, I am already thinking I might give this book to a few non-Christian friends who are also are thinkers and have lots of thoughts about ‘identity’ politics.
  13. Mission Hits – From Every Nation (mission resource round-up)
    I love Twitter for all the world resources that it connects me too, but particularly as I could never be aware of everything and it connects me to those elsewhere in the world who are. This year I discovered Chris Howles (a seminary leader in Anglican circles in Africa) puts together fortnightly mission resources from round the world which would be of use to any person interested in mission across the globe.
  14. The Christian Travelers’ Network podcast and resources
    The CTN has been around a couple of years now, and Sarah has done a great job from the US in growing the network and keeping content flowing. Like anything run by one person (this blog included), it will only ever reflect what that person (and guests) can bring to the network, but none-the-less, I’ve been delighted to see something with such scriptural aspirations, develop. Apart from the regular podcast, community on social media, and resources on the website, the CTN is expanding to be a travel agent who will service the Faith & Travel industry (largely from America). Although it’s ambitious to start such things at the tail end of a pandemic, and when travel companies have been shutting doors across the world even before the pandemic, I wish Sarah all the best for the next steps – do connect with her to see what she can offer you for your 2021 travels. One way you can do that is to join her at either of these two events online:

1. Families, Friends, and CTN subscribers – they will get to hear what my 2021 launch theme is and what kind of bookings I can offer – the Theme Reveal is Dec 30th at 7:00 PM Central Time –
2. Christian Colleges, Christian Clubs, and Churches – they will get to see an unboxing and I will focus on how I can help them with booking group travel  on January 5th at 7:30 PM Central Time –

2 online book clubs

Emily Thomas (Assoc Prof. in Philosophy at Durham) puts together a bite-size look at travel, taking us through various fun things about the history and philosophy of travel, in order for us to change how we think about it. Plenty in here to agree about, laugh about, disagree about and wrestle with, in short chapters. You’ll need to buy your own ebook (£9.98 on Kindle).

See more about the book here.

Part of the 9Marks series – short, practical chapters. There’s things radically alter our lives and church life, questions that’ll challenge things you believe, heart-warming thoughts that’ll help you treasure God, things to disagree with, and much more. Has the church ended up following tradition/pragmatics rather than the Bible on some things? Have we robbed ourselves – and more importantly, hundreds of thousands of unreached peoples – of eternal enjoyment of God, by not thinking through this? The author would suggest so.

If you’re in the UK/Ireland, I can send you 1 of 12 copies that I have, for £4/€5 (including postage). (Or buy an ebook yourself for £9.50)

Find out more about the book here.

Other details

We’ll meet on Zoom each week (likely at a time that suits the Irish timezone) – I have Zoom (paid), so you’ve no need to signup or pay.

There’ll be a social meet-up this coming week, to meet each other, chat and see what speed we want to go at.

Drop me a line on the “contact us” page if you don’t already have my contact details and want to take part.

Finally, if you’re a friend/mutual acquaintance and you’re struggling for money at this time of crisis, but still want to take part, just say (no shame!) and I can put some of my travel/petrol money (unused this month) towards a copy for you.

Happy reading!

Top tips for Irish mission agency stalls

I put this together as a discussion starter for agencies attending student events. But I trust the relevance may extend beyond that. It may first help to gain some context by reading this post on the frustrations of dead-events, and this post on working with millennials. And to make it more fun, I’ve decided to use song lyrics for each point, which come mostly from songs known by millennials onwards – can anyone name the bands?!

  1. I bet you think this [event] is about you
    First steps, let’s recognise what this event is, that you’ve been kindly invited along to. If there are a few stalls, if you’re partnering with others, or if the event has a general theme, it means one thing: this event is not primarily about you. You getting more sign-ups and you achieving your goals for your organisation, is not the goal of the evening. We must recognise here the goals of the event. Equip, the student festival run, has a tagline “5 days to fire and fuel students for a year of CU mission”. So the event won’t primarily be about a lifetime of overseas work, or about doing summer teams. This needs more than just a token acknowledgement. If we understand the event, and what the attendees expect from the event, it will be easier to bridge between that and what our organisation’s expectations are. There are SO many ways that you could honour the purpose of the event and have the beginnings of significant relationships and partnerships BY supporting these goals, not despite supporting these goals.

  2. Hey ya!
    These words are all that is needed to start to engage. Many mission partners take up residency in their castle (/stall) and expect the castle will magically gather a crowd of those willing to sign-up. Strangely, they find very few engage, and those that do, often don’t like being watched from half a metre away as they browse the stall. Like the best evangelistic book tables, I find that if there’s more than a short time period that you’re at the event for, then its best to abandon the stall for large chunks of time, and go off and say “hey ya” to people where they aren’t scared you’re about to hit them over the head with your organisational spiel. If you do stay at your stall, or only have a 30 minute window to engage with people at the end of an evening, here’s some tips:
  3. Save Tonight
    The meeting has ended. You have 1 hour to make as many contacts as you can. GO! The feeling of urgency in this context is, I would suggest, not helpful. In the heat of the moment, we revert to what we ultimately want again, not what is best. If every agency rep was to act like I’ve seen some do, it’d be the ugliest scene possible. You’ll be shocked at what I’ve seen before, though perhaps these two are the most common: flyer every thing that breathes around you; manipulate students to do your team, by saying things like “we’ll pay for your fees if you get a team from your CU to come”.

    Instead, can I suggest a few things, flowing from gospel principles:
    a. can you point a student to another agency as the evening goes on? What a delightful humility to realise we are not the best ones for everything,
    b. can you learn from a student that approaches you? Why not ask them questions about their life, their context, and seek to learn and be encouraged. This is not a one-way relationship.
    c. is your goal your organisation’s promotion, or that everyone leaves thinking more of the Lord Jesus, his gospel, and his hand at work in the world? How does that shape conversations?

    It’s those people who we’ll be seeking to give workshops to, have on stage, and give as much airtime as we can to.

  4. (Come) South of the border (with me)
    Many of the mission agencies on the island have full-time workers based in the north. I LOVE how many of them still care deeply for the whole island and travel sacrificially to connect and partner. Financially, it may not make perfect sense. Time-wise, it may be far harder. But spiritually, if all churches on this island are going to grow with missional DNA, we will benefit from partnerships forming when it doesn’t make sense. Invest in long-term relationships that seem to make no ‘business’ sense, and let God surprise you by His goodness. Hat tips to people like Africa Inland Mission, for their other-person-centred serving of mission in Ireland. Having said that….
  5. I can be your hero (baby)
    We all know the Northerner (I speak as one) who thinks they are coming to the south thinking they (or their organisation) are the key to mission, or that they should be treated in a certain way. “They just don’t get it in the south, do they?” is a sentence I’ve often heard.

    Nope. Just nope. Let’s first coming acknowledging our own cultural biases, weaknesses and struggles, and seeing the great joys and strengths of others. And that’s also to be said those who’ve come mimicking accents, imposing culture and methodology etc. I’m thankful for the grace that many have showed me in the past.

  6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
    So if I shouldn’t flyer everything that breathes, what is the best way to engage on an evening? Well whether at Equip, or at an evening event you’ve travelled for, I suggest that one of the primary goals should be relationship.

    If I attend an event far away, I’ll always schedule time in the few days after to follow-up with people in person (ideally), or by some other way. At Equip, quite often my goal in the “rush” period is just to say to someone “there’s lots more to chat about – how about breakfast tomorrow?”. And when the stall doesn’t seem to give me those opportunities, I’ll go a seminar or workshop, and chat to the person next to me, and develop deep relationships other ways over the week.

    The other person is a human being, and should be treated like such. I remember how baffled a few students were who signed their email addresses up to receive updates from an organisation they were fascinated about, only to be sent an email once about why they should do their student summer team! An example of an organisation who thought they were going quickly, getting email addresses, but actually missed the point entirely. Therefore….
  7. Million Dollar Question
    We must understand the people in front of us and their questions. At a festival like Equip, their questions will quite often be about campus mission. Lots of what mission agencies can offer (resources, longterm partnership etc) can speak into the needs of campus mission. But it’ll take a bit of thought.

“What are your questions about mission?”
“What went wrong on your CU mission team this year?”
“What are you trying differently this year?”
“What are the frustrations of life as a mission team on campus for you?”
“where do all your students hang out and how are you reaching them there?”
“are there any [insert nationality] students on campus?”
“What’s the least reached demographic on your campus?”

But more immediately, student questions might be about the session they’ve just been to, or the circumstances that have just arisen in their life. What they say their questions are, may not even be what their heart-questions are – that’s the same with evangelism too – we’re all humans!

The response to the student’s answer may be a story about a worker in your agency on the field. It may be an offer of a resource that would help with that question. It most likely will be an unknown, but a chance to pray with the student. But whatever the answer is (if there is one), it ought to be in relationship. Perhaps a fleeting relationship, perhaps one that will never be sustainable, but a respectful relationship. And in that way, you’ll get far more longevity of support, and opportunity to develop links longterm, than any person who crudely just wants people to sign up to their organisation.

There is always opportunity to plant other questions, that you feel may need asked. And Jesus’ questions, often do exactly that – they turn around the questioner to a new direction and open their eyes.

  1. Touch
    “Every interaction starts a chain reaction”. You’re one of say, 15 stalls in a hall. You can have a pot of gold on your table, but you’re still unlikely to get sign-ups from it unless people see the gold and how it relates to you. Instead, why not think about doing something interactive? A prize is always a good motivator, if you’re running a challenge. Or something visually that says – “wow, look at me! I’m not like those other table and chair stalls”. But the best interactive elements get people interacting with your organisation’s Unique Selling Points, or get respondents sharing their questions/stories. I’ve seen shoe-stands and coffee stalls work, but I’ve also seen a very simple question cause everyone to stop, ponder and engage.

  2. Bittersweet Symphony
    We’re humans. We can’t do everything. We can’t engage with everyone in an evening, or even in 5 days. And let’s not try or desire to escape our humanity. And that’s good news for us as mission agency reps. We’re given freedom to rest and to enjoy having some craic at all of these things. We’re given freedom to trust that God will bring people across our paths that will be divine appointments. We’re freed even to partner well with others and train them (eg: volunteers who will serve instead of us at some bigger events).

    Why shouldn’t we be competitive and more business-like in expecting to engage with every person? (by flyering etc.) Because if everyone did that, it’d be an ugly mess. We are not competitors. We’re on the same team.
  3. In the end
    We’ll all get this wrong at points. And some of the above thoughts may mean that we should decide not to buy into a life of trawling conferences with stalls. I pray that “fear of missing out” will not be the shaper of our time. We’ll always get folk who complain to us “oh I didn’t see you this year at this”, but they are often not the ones we should go to the conference for, as a whole – they are on board already and we can communicate with them in other ways. My prayer is that we’ll be able to all think of creative ways to engage with folk, that will flow from gospel principles, honour the Church, bless the individuals, and make people think more of the Lord Jesus, because of our interactions.

Suggestions/thoughts/comments/questions? I’d love to hear them.

Millennials and mission: some thoughts

Over on, Eddie Arthur (experienced missiologist, blogger and more importantly, another ultra-runner) has been once again sharing thought-provoking material. He lays the gauntlet down to us millennials (those born 1982-2000), to give our thoughts on the way ahead with mission and mission agencies.

The problem

Traditional mission agencies are closing left, right and centre in the UK/Europe. Eddie has highlighted how the model started by William Carey in the 18th century, has not really changed since. But now it’s suffering, as big agency after big agency, lays off staff and some even shut doors.

Some of that, is because of new agencies starting (we won’t have time to consider why fully), some presumably is because the Church in the west is (mostly) in sharp decline, and some is because we operate on old models, as I outlined in my last post. This has resulted in organisations like the Irish Mission Agency Partnership, functionally dying a death, despite the evangelical Church in Ireland being in a time of rapid growth (albeit from very small numbers to start with).

An attempt at a solution

Let’s just say that one blog post will never come up with a solution to this problem. Nor will any one person. I have less experience than many of you reading this, and my theology is not as full-orbed or deep at my age either. And I write from a specific context. But, given all that, I’m still going to try.

First, one assumption: mission agencies are necessary things

I’m going to assume that because of the following reasons, we want to persist with charitable bodies that I will call mission agencies:

  • they sharpen the global Church’s focus, when we often are consumed by what is in front of our noses
  • they give expertise in a way that few local churches, individuals or denominations could do
  • when closely linked and in submission to the church (in Acts 13-style mission teams), they can be Biblical
  • despite the disadvantages, mission agencies have many advantages too, such as a brand, prayer base, past experience etc. Good institutions/agencies are very hard to start from scratch!

And so, if you’re still with me, here’s 3 principles I think may help us going forward:

  1. Mission events and agencies need to speak into pre-existing communities more (Local Church, Global Mission)
  2. Mission events and agencies need to know the “why” of what they’re doing (Finding your purpose)
  3. Mission events and agencies need to understand the questions that people are asking (Understanding the questions of the day)

Understanding all 3 of these may be helped by first reading my last post before continuing here. Let me expand on these 3 now:

(image stolen from a friend)
  1. Local church, global mission

Part A) Should an agency turn up to a (church) gathering I’m already going to, I’ll likely be there. The problem with creating extra events for people to attend, is that in some cases, you are actually preventing mission happening rather than helping it. You create extra Christian meetings, so that no-one is sharing any depth of life week by week with their non-Christian colleagues, neighbours and friends. I admit that there will always be necessary meetings that won’t be connected to one individual church, but I do wonder whether our frustration at lack of attendance at these, is more because we haven’t taken the time to work with local churches on such meetings.

Recently I was part of a team who pioneered a student mission-equipping festival in Ireland last year. In attendance were 150 students, and this year it seems that perhaps double that will attend. It was possible, because we speak into pre-existing communities and persuade them of the worth of going. Their leaders persuade their communities and all come together. At the same time, I got a phonecall from another mission agency leader, who offered me large money to bus those hundreds of students 1.5 hours to a different venue, where he would gather 80 mission agency workers and they could chat to them. They then would travel 1.5 hours back to our festival. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the answer I gave (let’s reverse the travel order). Let’s speak into where pre-existing communities are at, and if going outside of that, let’s still work with them.

Part B) Because the younger generations no longer support organisations and institutions so much, it is necessary for those employed in mission agencies to not separate “mobilising” and “mission” so much. The most successful workers in the current generation, I would argue, have mobilised while they are on mission (though I’ve sat through countless counter-arguments to this, and attempts to say that bi-vocational ministry is never good). Let me give one (real) example from a different organisation (names have been made up to protect anonymity).

CASE STUDY 1: mobilising for Jambooli-Ministries International (JMI: reaching some of the least reached people ever)

Old Model: Mobiliser went round 160 prayer meetings (per year) telling the story of their mission workers and organisation [JMI]. They tell of the great things God is doing, share the needs, and pick up €100 at the end of the night. For many churches, they’ll have that worker back again in a year to do the same thing, with a few prayer updates in between. This will no longer work so well because:

  • there are not 160 prayer meetings in churches in most areas, to easily attend. And there are many agencies.
  • The likelihood of someone responding to the need mentioned amongst the Jambooli is not great, given it’s come out of the blue.
  • It it a highly un-relational model and relies on people supporting organisations, which few do anymore.

New suggested model: The mobiliser sees that there are a few Jamboolian people here in Ireland, (that JMI seeks to reach abroad) amongst many others from other cultures. They join or start a ministry alongside churches, seeking to reach these people in Ireland (amongst others perhaps). Through serving in this way, people develop a heart for these people, learn skills, and ponder going longterm to the Jamboolians. It is also highly relational ministry. The JMI mission partners now have prayer support and potential team-mates. At the very least, their prayer supporters are more informed. Disadvantages:

  • mobilising by reaching out at the same time, is a lifestyle, not a job. This could be good, however.
  • In many rural places, it may not be possible to enact this model quite so easily (though Jambooli has farmers/rural business too)
  • The church (or individuals within it) must realise that this training and discipleship opportunity that opens their eyes to unreached peoples, and also trains them in contextual evangelism, must come at a cost, and must be willing to support more than just the “old way” of thrusting €100 in the workers hands per year. Though perhaps the worker could now consider being bi-vocational too, teaching English to Jamboolians here, as a paid job.

Onto (a far more brief) principle 2 for mission agencies going forward:

2. Finding your purpose

Crudely put, to survive as an agency, you must find what your purpose (Unique Selling Point/why) is and make sure you beat that drum. In my first post that you’ve hopefully read by now, the meeting had no USP. I could be passionate about mission, yet happily not go.

Similarly for another Missions conference in Ireland called the “Outreach Conference” in Kilkenny. It came about because decades ago, it was a very lonely experience to reach out as an evangelical in Roman Catholic Ireland, and there were very few workers and very little support. A support conference like that, was gold-dust for such workers. Now, although I went each year and dearly love all those who do, it’s attendance sharply declines, with a few new faces occasionally coming along, propped up by trying to ship in big name speakers from round the world. It has such potential for shaping mission in Ireland, but lacks a new USP. The vision for the new USP should sing from the publicity, and connect with hearers who think “ah…I’d always wanted a network like that!”.

Even for mission agencies, they must re-think their USPs sometimes. As mission is no longer “from the west to the rest” (as it may have been assumed it was by many in the last century) some of the agency worker’s role must be spent on invaluable other things (eg: like helping new Nigerian churches in Ireland, integrate, contextualise and partner well with Irish churches and vice versa) which are different to what they might have done 20 years ago.

Connected into that, our third (and final) brief point for mission agencies going forward:

3. Understanding the questions of the day

John Stott was famous for speaking lots about “double listening”. Having the Bible in one hand and a newspaper [/insert modern method…internet] in the other. He would seek to apply God’s word to God’s world. Without deeply knowing one or the other, God’s voice is not as clearly heard or applied.

I’ve already mentioned in my last post about how this affects the questions we ask non-Christians, but it also affects the questions that young Christians have today too, and how they engage with mission agencies.

And so we must think through this for mission agencies and their workers. They must realise that “come on my organisation’s summer team” cannot be the set answer for everything. Nor can, “signup to pray and give to our organisation“. Yet those are the two incessant things that are pushed at most mission agency stalls I’ve ever visited. Your summer team may indeed be the answer to my questions, but unless you help me to get to see that, the likely reason I will choose your summer team, is because it looks really cool (though more likely than not, with 100 other cool summer teams, I won’t even pick it for that reason). Ironically many of the agencies say that standing at stalls at large Christian festivals is something that bears little visible fruit, yet they still go.

I suggest that we either don’t go, and re-invest the time in relationships. Or that we go, and learn to ask better questions in the context of fresh relationships. I’ll have a separate post on this soon.

In conclusion

“What on earth has any of this got to do with you being a millennial? You’ve just stated 3 [good?] principles but nothing that could not have been stated by an older person.”

Yes and No. The three things I’ve just shared come about because of older models of working, based on things older folks cherished (or passed down by tradition). Perhaps if I were to sum it up:

In the modernist (truth-seeking) era of my grandparents:

  • the mission agency tells you about a need elsewhere
  • the mission agency tells you about a concept of how it does it
  • you pray and support and see that worker in a year (or many years)

In a post-modern (experiential/ individualistic), international world millennials were raised in:

  • (cross-cultural) mission needs are everywhere (including on our doorstep)
  • the agency can model the concept and help us reach out and train us through it
  • we experience deep relationship with the agency through working together

So in other words, the model of mission agencies is outdated, the USPs are often outdated (or not emphasized/known), and the questions that many ask are also outdated.

So in other words, the model of mission agencies is outdated, the USPs are often outdated (or not emphasized/known), and the questions that many ask are also outdated.

The one danger of all I’ve said about this of course, is that you could perhaps acquire the practical bits by secular training (model, USP and questions), and yet not walk closely with God, and not ooze Godly character and spirituality (compared to having acquired the practical bits by wrestling in prayer with a deep love for those you are seeking to partner with, mobilise and learn from). I dichotomise slightly.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Pushback?

I’d love to hear from you, whether in the comments below, or whether in person or from a blog response.

Looking for more along these lines? I have already shared how churches (particularly western evangelical ones) could change to facilitate mission here and here. The whole blog is an attempt to look through God’s mission in this world, through millennial eyes, in particular through the lens of travel – a topic/lifestyle that grips millions of us. Enjoy!

The meetings I won’t travel for

“No-one in the new Irish churches cares about mission!” exclaimed a mission agency representative from one organisation.

Every year we arrange incredible evenings of interactive mission experience, with an incredible speaker from round the world and good worship, and every year we face an empty room on the night. God, awake our nation for mission! Why does no-one care like we do?

You see, that evening I was in two places at the same time. I was on the inside of that circle, feeling frustrated that I’d ‘wasted’ another evening at a random meeting with very few people at it. I was a mission agency representative.

I would say I’m passionate about mission.
I’ve been on short-term mission teams from the age of 15.
I’ve used my holidays intentionally to explore mission.
I’ve trained teams of mission-minded students.
I’ve read several hundred books/papers on mission.
I’ve supported my church leaders seeking to shape the whole church around God’s mission.
I’ve failed endless times at living missionally in my day to day life.
I’ve lectured on mission.

But I was also on the outside of that circle that evening. Because? Because I am a millennial. Standing as the youngest mission agency representative in the circle by a long way, I felt completely baffled to why anyone was frustrated at all! Wasn’t it obvious why the evening had failed (humanly speaking)?

Apparently not.

You work with students, Peter! They have all the free time in the world. Why aren’t they here? Perhaps that’s why tonight failed! Where are they?!

But much as there weren’t many students there (or anyone, for that matter), I had suspicions that the very reason I wasn’t frustrated, may be the reason that they weren’t there too. For we were all (at the time) millennials.

Now, before I get myself into trouble for stereotyping, over-generalising and repeating some unhelpful, vicious attacks on a proportion of our society known as “millennials” (those born between 1980 and 1999), let me caveat this and say that there are obvious nuances of culture, background and much else to be had. I’ll let you apply common sense to what I say. And nope, I haven’t done much research on millennials…I just speak from experience.

But there are some mission gatherings I will not go to.

It’s not because they’re not good gatherings.
It’s not because I think I already know everything (though sadly I often act that way).
It’s not even that I don’t have time (though we all love to repeat that mantra).

Here, I suggest 3 real reasons why millennials like me, don’t go to such gatherings:

  1. Being passionate about mission, means being embedded in community
  2. Being passionate for mission does not equate to being passionate for your organisation
  3. Being passionate about mission, means asking the right questions
  1. Being passionate about mission, means being embedded in community.

I choose to be involved with a number of communities in life. Church community, my sports community, a local travel community and my friendship group. There are some communities I also have no choice about, like family, though for the average millennial in my life, duty-bound ties will never trump chosen ties (though I trust family can be both of these).

Between my sports community and my church community, they have meetings 4 nights a week which I go to, and so when another meeting is scheduled (even in these communities!), I normally am reluctant to go to it, given that life is more than being in meetings. It must grab me enough, that I am persuaded it will impact my life. And that’s me as a single person with more free time than others who have family. I’ve written elsewhere about the trouble of always travelling to [Christian] meetings.

And so random meetings which I don’t see what the ‘Unique Selling Point’ is (or in Simon Sinek’s terms the “why“), will not get me out of my house, particularly if they’re at an unfamiliar venue, with people I don’t know. I may be passionate about mission, but still not attend your mission event. And I see nothing wrong with that.

I may be passionate about mission, but still not attend your mission event. And I see nothing wrong with that.

2. Being passionate for mission does not equate to being passionate for your organisation

You can debate all the reasons you want, and debate whether its a good thing or a bad thing too, but the younger generation like me don’t live by loyalty to organisations. Organisations are often perceived to be hierarchical constructions of a past generation that say very little to where things are at now. Slow-moving, cumbersome, and often more frustrating to work with; my friends would often rather do something without the paperwork, and something that flows from our hearts.

We support those we know on the mission-field. I go to events or things that my friends invite me to. I value authenticity, over an institutional name. I value partnership with others, over preserving a brand-name. I value godly risk-taking and action, over perpetual conservatism and inaction, done for the sake of preservation.

And so I may be passionate about mission, but will never see that as necessitating the support of your organisation, or others. And I see nothing wrong with that.

I value partnership with others, over preserving a brand-name.

3. Being passionate about mission, means asking the right questions

The questions of today’s millennials are different ones to the past generations. And although I quite often describe university students as “apathetic”, I don’t really mean they are apathetic to spiritual questions. It’s just that they’re apathetic to the questions that the last generation persuaded me are “the important questions”. No longer are they asking about “who is Jesus?”, “Did he rise from the dead in history?” or “is the Bible true?”. Those were the modernist’s truth-orientated questions. Yes, they are questions that are central to the gospel, that we cannot abandon, but they are questions that could be considered from other angles. (Kristi and others have better expressed this elsewhere.)

As humans, we are created thinking-beings. We will always have questions, regardless of whether we express them in words or not.

“What does it mean to be human?” invites questions that the modernist would have loved to ask about finding our identity in Christ, and who He is, our maker.

“Is there something more to life?” eventually invites us to consider the resurrection, in order to find purpose in life.

“What is the best grounds for Equality?” invites us to consider the only foundation for equality, found in the scriptures in Genesis 1-2.

“Does Christianity work?” invites us to experience Jesus first-hand in the scriptures, as he walks off the pages by the power of the Spirit.

As humans, we are created thinking-beings. We will always have questions, regardless of whether we express them in words or not.

Because Jesus is Lord over every area of life, He is always only one step away from any conversation, any topic or any question. We have no need to be afraid of other questions, and all questions will lead to Christ (ultimately…but please let’s not get there at a speed that no-one else can follow). Yes, there are some questions that like Christ, we should sidestep, in order to best answer real heart-questions, but let’s not hit people over the head with the old questions of the last generation, claiming it’s what is Biblical. Even I must teach myself this daily, as I work with students of a new generation who are not asking the questions that I was asking!

And so I may be passionate about mission, but will not attend an event or support something that asks the wrong questions. And I see nothing wrong with that.

And back to Ireland….

My prayer that night as we stood in that circle of frustration, not knowing how to escape, was that God would forgive us (who thought we were the most passionate about mission) how cold our hearts were for mission compared to His, and reveal to us afresh how abundantly good His character and gifts are to us, even past what we’ve ever found out.

Why were our hearts cold for mission? Because we forgot to ask the local churches what their questions were about mission, whether they wanted an event like this, and how we could run such things in a way that didn’t become an extra burden to everyone to attend. And when I say “forgot to ask the local churches”, I don’t mean sending them an email to ask what our event can cover. I mean listening to their members’ heartbeats from week to week and knowing them well enough to know the questions that scream from their lives. Sometimes we forget to love others.

I’ll share more concrete thoughts on a way ahead for mission agencies in just a little while. For now, I’ll leave it as the easy half – diagnosing a problem without giving solutions! Oh how easy it is to do this half!

Travelling to Frontier People Groups

How about shaping your 2020 travel plans around something different? Read on…

One of the groups of posts that I have received most feedback about is this one, outlining what Unengaged People Groups are, and why so few are going to them (from a western, reformed perspective). Millions in our world are left with little or no access to the good news of Jesus, and very few of our churches are aware, or perhaps are able to think through how to shape their whole church-life around such a heartbeat – God’s heartbeat for the nations.

Having already introduced Unreached People Groups and Unengaged People Groups (see link above), I have a third category today which I’ve been learning about recently, which will help clear up a number of issues.

Frontier People Groups

What are Frontier People Groups?

Why isn’t ‘Unreached’ and ‘Unengaged’ terminology enough?

There are many problems with the term “Unreached”, and its definition as a people group with under 2% evangelical believers. It means that both the Republic of Ireland and Yemeni people (in Yemen) fall into the same category. But they’re not. In the Republic of Ireland, there has been Judeo-Christian framework shaping the land for hundreds of years, the Bible freely accessible and indigenous evangelical churches growing fast. In Yemen, to the best of my knowledge, none of this is readily available, apart from perhaps the Bible online in a written (variant?) of Arabic. Yet both are called “unreached”.

Hence the addition of “unengaged”?

Well, yes. Unengaged People Groups don’t have workers amongst them, don’t have the scriptures in their language, and have no local indigenous evangelical church movement. But there are still problems with this definition, or at least the usage of it.

Often agencies have been working together to ensure that the most “unengaged” peoples are reached. And as soon as a team, or individuals go to that people group, they become “engaged”. Now if that people group is under 50,000 people, fantastic! But what if that people group is 5 million people? Is this one team now engaging them all? Sadly they are often taken off lists of “unengaged” at this stage, with little understanding that teams are only language learning (not really engaging people), and could well be chucked out (in many Creative Access Nations) very quickly.

There are also some places, where other locals from surrounding areas, could indeed reach into this people group, without a total outsider coming to them, as they have similar culture, language or heritage. We might like to differentiate between these “Unengaged” groups, and unengaged peoples who have no chance of that happening.

And so we arrive at Frontier People Groups.

For definitions of them you can see here and here.

For a deeper rationale on why such terms are needed, you can read here and see diagrams/learn more here.

There’s a danger that such terminology can soon swamp us and dull our imaginations by forcing non-Biblical (though not un-biblical) definitions on us as a narrow framework. But given the lack in emphasis towards the least reached, in our misisonal giving and sending, I hope such definitions will instead sharpen us and be of much use in the years ahead.

And where some of these Frontier People Groups may be inaccessible, some may be dangerous to visit, and some may be unwise to visit on holiday, there are others which the more adventurous amongst you could indeed think about visiting and getting a feel of whether you or your church could be pray-ers, senders or supporters of those who go to such people groups with the good news of Jesus.

Are Unreached People Groups Biblical?

It was the “Introduction to Mission” module at a local Bible College, and I was lecturing there for the first time. A bit out of my depth, in a room full of people who had far more experience of mission than I did, I sometimes (rightly or wrongly) resorted to my favourite topics, tangents or strong points, to fall back on familiar territory.

Nearing the end of day 2, I went off briefly on one of those excursions into a short bit about “Unreached People Groups” as I’ve written about here before. As I turned back round to the class, I noticed a blank face or two and a voice spoke up:

“But where is that in the Bible, Sir?”

And it was at this point, I admitted that indeed the exact definition and outworkings of Unreached People Groups, as defined by the Joshua Project, International Mission Board (of the Southern Baptists) or other major organisations, are not in the Bible. That’s why this was only a passing mention in a far fuller Biblical course. Something I hold lightly to, though perhaps for the number of times I mention it, you wouldn’t think so!

Yes, we’d seen aplenty that God’s heart was for all nations, right from Genesis onwards. Even as we read prophecies about the coming of the Lord Jesus, around Christmas, many of them have this “all nations” scope.

“His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth”

Micah 5:4
(speaking of what the eternal God would do, being born in “little” Bethlehem)

“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people – a light for revelation to the Gentiles…” 

Luke 2:30-32
(Simeon realises the significance of this birth is far more than just for his own people)

And we could go on…(instead, why not get your hands on Chris Wright’s “Mission and the People of God” or Chester’s “Mission Matters”?)

But despite these constant mentions of the nations or all peoples, it still doesn’t help us define what that looks like. And that’s where this article on The Gospel Coalition (and this one too) strikes back at current tendencies in missiology.

And what the authors mention is certainly true. Three things struck me from 10 years taking trips to more unreached, unengaged parts of the world:

  1. The “Unengaged” world (as defined here) has comparatively few resources (it used to be around 1% of all evangelical mission giving), and few seem to care enough to shape their church mission policies and individual lives, to sacrificially prioritise these peoples. There are great needs that brought about the wave of thinking about “unreached people groups”, that still exist. Let’s not shy away from this area, thinking it is the “sexy” topic of the time.
  2. We cannot zap Jesus back by completing the great commission, as soon as the last tribe hears the last word of our good news presentation in their language. Mission is about far more than gospel presentations, Discipleship (Seeker) Bible Studies or responses. The great commission speaks of teaching people to obey all that Christ has commanded, and the New Testament develops the idea of God’s people – now, the Church.
  3. If we do not take a stronger emphasis on what the Bible emphasizes in discipleship (that discipleship is messy and growing Godly character is never quick), in local church (that a meeting of 3 people looking at the scriptures is not necessarily a church), in evangelism (that pragmatics of hunting “people of peace” and other such strategies cannot define us), then we will not have healthy churches that will survive long-term. We may have exciting stories of dozens of “church” plants. But we may simply be inoculating the culture against Christianity (by making them think they’re Christian), rather than seeing genuine conversion.

So let’s not take our foot off the gas/pedal. There are great needs. But may we steep ourselves first and foremost in the scriptures, to know what to grasp as first importance, and what human principles may be useful but not essential. May we tie our seminaries to our mission-fields and see that it is Godly, equipped people we are sending to plant sustainable, indigenous churches.

Campus Lights: students living and speaking for Jesus around the world

(Book review: Cawley, Muddy Pearl, 2019)
Disclaimer: As well as knowing the author, I received this book as a free review copy from the publisher, ahead of its release in July. This by no means changed my view of the book or meant that I ought to give it a positive review.

One of the things I love about travel, is the stories one hears from people from all sorts of backgrounds. From adventure stories that thrill us as we start to wonder where truth stops and fiction starts, to heart-breaking tales of messy reality that leave us deeply moved and wondering whether we should be acting differently. Stories inspire, illustrate and capture hearts and minds.

I was looking forward to this book for that exact reason – stories of God at work from campuses around the world. I know the author, Luke, having worked alongside him in UCCF (IFES in Great Britain), and I’ve always appreciated the power in his communication, and his ability to think independently. And I wasn’t disappointed – the opening chapter was of a student evangelistic gathering that was stormed by the Police in a far-off country, and leaders arrested. Boom – I was gripped!

But I was also wary. Have you ever met a traveller who never shuts up? Or someone who really thinks they’ve got incredible tales to tell, but leaves you stretching for you drink to hide your yawn? Having worked in student work and attended conferences and gatherings across Europe and beyond for over 7 years, it’s not just entertaining stories I am after – there are plenty of them around already! But thankfully this book is different.

Launched this coming week at The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) World Assembly, each chapter is carefully chosen to tell of the values that make a great student movement. But when you’ve only 12 or so stories to pick, it could be easy to pick the best, funniest and most glorious that paint IFES in a wonderful light. But Luke doesn’t. And the book is all the more wonderful for it. Here’s just a whisper of what it contains:

Chapter 2: Tales of Proclaiming Jesus (Indonesia and Middle East)
“Proclamation doesn’t work in our culture” is quite often what I get told in various settings where I visit. Setting aside the easier context of Europe, where tens of thousands are hearing the good news proclaimed through small CUs running high profile events and week of events, and where the IFES Europe “FEUER” conference is training hundreds to do so, Luke takes us to the most unlikely of places. Highly relational, highly Islamic settings, where openly discussing evidence about Jesus being God is forbidden. So how might proclamation of good news there work? In its own messy way, Luke tells us!

Engaging the University – what does Jesus say to what we study or to the culture around us?

Chapter 3: Tales of Promoting Justice (Guatemala and USA)
“We don’t have any justice issues here – we just need to preach the gospel” is a line that I again, often hear on campuses in Europe. But somehow in the south of Ireland, one of the largest Christian denominations is largely Nigerian, yet we see few Nigerians in our Christian Unions – why? And somehow in the north of Ireland we claim that we want everyone to meet Jesus, but we’ll refuse to shape our lives round ending the segregation in society to make that possible. Justice matters. Everyone expected Guatemala to be in the chapter. But no-one thought the USA would be here. Luke tells the controversial story of #blacklivesmatter and how Urbana tackled it – was it wise?

Chapter 4: Tales of Engaging the University (Sri Lanka and Great Britain)
If “reaching every student with the good news of Jesus” becomes our mantra, where is the place of equipping graduates to have a full-orbed worldview, a whole-person discipleship, that looks to have Christians in every sphere of campus life, making a difference and living for Christ? Vinoth Ramachandra (Sri Lanka) has been a long-term advocate of this, though it is not his story that is told. This chapter brings a wonderful depth to a good news that ought to impact every area of life, through humanly insignificant ways of lone students and academics.

Chapter 5: Tales of preparing graduates (Kenya and Romania)
The Kenyan tale was great. A business-man creating a prayerful, spirit-led stir across corporations and borders. The Romanian one, I’d wondered whether Luke (based there) had just written about his Romanian mates (a few of whom I’ve met). But out of the fog, came insight. A story that I wondered about where it was going, turned into God using failure, ‘wrong’ decisions and more, to grow something from nothing. The raw authenticity of the story made it utterly relatable to so many stories here in Ireland. Perhaps a model for pursuing life as graduates.

Training leaders in Ireland.

Here the book takes a turn in emphasis, taking convictions of a student movement, and figuring out to make them sustainable:

Chapter 6: Tales of Leadership Development (Solomon Islands and Mongolia)
What a joy to read something of two messy movements. Both works of God in hard places, but for utterly different reasons. How do we grow leaders from being consumers (or non-Christians) through to leading such movements? Here lies two great examples at varying stages.

Chapter 7: Tales of Financial Sustainability (South Korea and Burkina Faso)
There reaches a stage in every movement where finance is an issue. Luke takes one country that is highly “Christian” but sharply in decline, and another that is used to depending on others for support and shows how things can be sustainable in both, despite challenges. Or rather he doesn’t show us. He tells their stories, and leaves us to work things out – a far better way to help us contextualise!

Chapter 8: Stories from the future (St Kitts)
And before I knew it, 16 hours later (not all spent reading), I’d finished the book. Gripped by many a story. Challenged anew by what I’d read. Even made to think by the way Luke handled the passages he turned to in each chapter in fresh ways.

A new generation of student leaders in Belfast

This was certainly not what I thought it would be – “Shining Like Stars 2″ – a sequel to Lindsay Brown’s great account of God at work across campuses. Nor is it a history of IFES, although it does contain snippets.

But it is both a stimulating read for the thinker, and a call to action. A tale of God working through weakness, and a springboard for us to be used similarly. A collection of apparently random lifestories from round the world, yet of intimately connected, diverse family members who all have a family name written over their doors. And the name is not IFES. The name is Jesus.

I’d encourage any staff member to pick this up and read it, but also any student who wishes to be encouraged by God at work, and challenged by some convictions which they might help shape CU life. And for those of past CU generations? Come, celebrate what God has done and is doing!

Peter is a Team Leader with Christian Unions Ireland in Munster and Connacht and normally blogs on faith and travel, which increasingly overlaps with the culture of the campuses he works on. You can find his book “Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP 2018) in ebook or physical format from any major distributor.

Travelling for a Beach Mission Team

Approach someone to talk with them about Jesus, on the street in the city that I live in, and you’ll get rejection after rejection. Everyone has places to be, things to do, and people to meet. But approach them when they’re chilled out and sitting about on holiday, and most people are up for chatting! Or so the founders of one organisation saw.

And so every year I travel to do United Beach Missions, to reach out to people who are on their holidays. Here’s one sample of them in action:

“Beach Team” (as often affectionately called by the locals), has done 3 things in my experience:

  1. Beach Team trains.
    UBM has trained me in personal evangelism better than any organisation, church or experience. From the age of 15 on Beach Team, I was encouraged to have God’s heart for lost people. Whether through building up friendships with 5 year old children and their parents on the beaches, giving short evangelistic talks at events, helping run literature tables, speaking, singing and interacting on the street or on the beaches, or facilitating others to have these opportunities – Beach Team has given me training, let me have opportunity after opportunity to make mistakes and improve, and given me feedback to help me in that.

    Beach Team has given me great experience of Biblical evangelism, which is word-centred, relational and focused on proclaiming the person of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and second coming. It is partly Beach Team that got me first thinking about Unreached People Groups and coming to live in Ireland and be part of the small evangelical church scene here.
  2. Beach Team shapes unreached countries/areas
    UBM has reached places in Ireland where there was no evangelical church, and in some cases, has helped partner to establish churches there. Whether that be the decades that UBM were in Ballybunion before Listowel Christian Fellowship started, or the decades of outreach in Tramore before Tramore Bible Church came into existence. Or simply playing a significant role in strengthening churches like Youghal Methodist that were in a very different place to where they are now. The impact of decades of prayer and witness to the same people, in similar places, should never be taken away, and has left a visible impact. One church planter in north Dublin said this to me, after I told him of the disproportionate numbers of people who’d I’d found in Cork who’d come to faith from the tiny village of Ardmore. “I’d be surprised if there wasn’t correlation between the decades with thousands of people praying, and the people who come to faith in the same places. Prayer works, and we so rarely persist in it. There seems to be correlation with Ballybunion anyway.” (paraphrased from memory)
  3. Beach Team reaches thousands with the gospel year on year Through proclamation, evangelistic literature, friendships developed over years with holiday-makers, and one-off encounters, Beach Team has seen fruit each year of people coming to faith and joining churches back home where they are from. Although its focus is one faithful seed-sowing to thousands, there always has been an eager question from leaders and team members of how best we can follow this up relationally. One Ardmore mother told me that she’d been up to the Shankill Road in Belfast for 3 weeks of her summer after she professed faith! Another who remained part of her local Catholic Church in east Cork said that a team member wrote to her and sent her Biblical booklets for twenty years after she came to faith.

United Beach Missions does have its weaknesses and flaws, just as I do, as a leader of UBM, but ultimately it is one of the best ways to spend a week of your summer, regardless of your age (from 15 – 95!).

  • it takes all sorts of personalities and gifts to help run a team – you don’t need to be the world’s best evangelist! There are behind-the-scene roles too. Cooks, musicians, kids workers, grannies to chat to grannies etc.
  • The accommodation has got better and better (for insurance reasons) and now most centres have normal beds, showers and great facilities. So if you’re older, or even have a family of your own, why not still come?
  • This year, it is half price to join a team! 30 euros will pay your team fee for your first team, and 25 euros for the team after that – BARGAIN! (There is a minimal annual registration fee on top of that)

Join me: Ballybunion 27th July – 3rd August

Do go onto their YouTube channel for more testimonies from the likes of UCCF Director Richard Cunningham, who give similar stories of how it shaped their early evangelistic experience.

Missionaries are just adventurers?

“I’m not going to the Missions Conference” said my friend in church. Having just given everything to help organise the conference that hundreds of people came to every year, I was deflated to hear these words from a core member of the Christian community. Why?

“Missionaries at conferences are just a bunch of extroverted adventurers who tell cool stories about their adventures following God elsewhere in the world. I’m not supporting their adventures under the name of Jesus.”

And to some extent, I could see where they were coming from. So many missionaries to gain support, tell story after story of impressive things, in scary situations, or radical moves of God. The story often revolves round them, their work, or their experience, and that’s somewhat natural.

And so many mission teams and people, end up doing things abroad that they would never dream of doing at home, or never think was wise or sustainable to do. Spending your time painting orphanages may seem wonderful, until you rob the local painter of a job. Blitzing the city of [insert name] that is predominantly [insert other religion] with gospel literature before leaving may seem brave and fearless, until you realise the negative impact it has on sustainable work of local Christians.

If those were the missionaries we were having on stage, I might go to be entertained, but equally I might decide to stay at home.

Thankfully, they’re not. For at least three reasons:

  1. Every Christian is a missionary

God is on mission – the Mission Dei. And He calls us along to partake in His vision, which we glimpse as we see His heart in the scriptures, and see His hand at work across the nations. It’s not an optional calling. It’s not a thing for adventurers or extroverts. It’s for everyone, both at home and abroad. And I hope our conferences reflect that – this year, we’d a diverse range of people speaking, from a teacher, to a student, to a golf green-keeper, a church worker, a stay-at-home parent and many more. Forget the scary terminology, or questioning whether missionaries are good for the world. They are. Because we’re all on mission. And His mission is His church, which is the best thing to happen to the world.

2. Every personality type is used in the body

There was a generation who delighted in Myers Briggs personality tests. “I’m in introvert” and “I’m INFP” were things you often heard. Those were very useful (and still are) but often were labels that people hid behind and used as excuses. “I can’t tell people about Jesus like that, because I’m not that kind of person.”

But while respecting the diversity of Christ’s creation, we can’t simply hide behind personality types as a reason why we’re not living and speaking for Jesus wherever we are. Yes, we must cherish the different parts of the body of Christ, value our unity in diversity, and not try and force everyone into the same mold, but we must also always push ourselves out of our comfort zones a little, so that we grow in areas we are not comfortable in. Perhaps that’s what might challenge even the current “Strengthfinder” generation, who like to build on people’s strengths primarily.

It’s why some of the people who’ve left Cork to go on mission to some of the more extreme places in the world, are actually introverts and humanly speaking far from being the stereotypical “adventurer”. And it’s beautiful when God does that – so changing people’s hearts and convictions as to who He is, that they can’t help but radically be re-orientated to His call. It’s who they were made to be, even if that doesn’t seem obvious to them years ago.

3. We must tell God’s story, rather than our own

This is something I struggle with. When does telling an incredible story about God working, actually point to me? Does every story I tell, necessarily have to be about me failing or being weak, but God still using it? I look at some of this in chapter 2 of my book.

And what do we expect of our cross-cultural missionaries….do we ask them to be normal church leaders in a local context, plus have the ability to speak other languages, learn other cultures, thrive amongst other worldviews and perhaps have a normal job on the side too? It’s very hard to say the sentence “God primarily uses ordinary followers of Jesus” when you’ve just said the sentence before it. That doesn’t appear like a normal person to me. That appears like an extremely gifted person (humanly speaking) in certain things, which we could not expect everyone to be. There’s a joke in some circles that love to emphasize how God uses “ordinary” people, that it’s a bunch of extra-ordinary personalities trying to persuade us that we can all be ordinary.

Regardless, every time we organise a conference, we try and excite people, not primarily with big personalities or intrepid story-tellers, but with God’s Word, His work and His story.

The Christian hostel community that I stayed with in Scotland the other night.

Regardless, every time we organise a conference, we try and excite people, not primarily with big personalities or intrepid story-tellers, but with God’s Word, His work and His story.

But it brings me back to thinking….

Perhaps if God uses all personality types and gifts, we should play to the strengths of those who are adventurers at heart? Shouldn’t it be a natural recruiting pool for people who could go to the hardest-to-reach spots in the world where there are still Unengaged People Groups? Sure, we must be careful that this is not the prime reason we pick them – Godly character, a love for God, and for His Church should still ooze from them. But to not tap into the adventurous spirit of many – to overlook travel – is to overlook some of the people most humanly fitted to going.

What if, instead of ranting about travelling people being always on the road, we were to empower them to do what they do well, to the glory of God, and for His mission? What if the way they learnt to love the local church, was to see that their adventurous spirit can be a key part of local church community, without making them feel like they are tied to a chair and strait-jacketed by Christianity?

By loving them, in their diverse gifts and passions, we give them an example of loving people of radically different gifts and passions, and serving and honouring them. And we trust that they’d start to do the same – to value to 9-5 office worker and the stay at home parent. To show love to the disabled kid, or the person who would rather sit at home playing computer games. To intentionally demonstrate that God’s community includes all sorts.

It’s why I wasn’t surprised that out of all those I talked to at a recent Christian hostel, many (even new believers, who’d come to faith in another hostel, and were now plugged in to local church) were considering overseas mission in hard places where Jesus isn’t known.

Perhaps, we should stop looking down on travel as a subsidiary luxury of the western church?


PS: A question for another day is what church looks like in those hard-to-reach warzones, nomadic tribes or other places, when a bunch of extroverted adventurers turn up together on the doorstep. What does diversity look like then? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below).