Millennials on Mission in the Middle East

Did you know the median age of all people worldwide is 30 years old? 

That’s why so many mission groups are trying to mobilize young leaders into their field teams and mission networks. We have seen many mission groups wrestle with engaging millennials in their work and teams. Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are a group loosely defined as adults born after 1980. Every generation has unique traits and millennials are often characterized as passionate, educated, tech savvy and ready to take risks. Yet misunderstandings and/or miscommunication leads to millennials being under-utilized after arriving or leaving quickly or not coming to the mission field at all.

A few weeks ago, one of the networks took a significant step towards intentionally mobilizing younger leaders.  Phill Butler, visionSynergy’s founder, helped launch the Arabian Peninsula Network (APN) over 20 years ago and since then, the network has achieved many notable results. During 2016, the APN leadership increased the involvement of a new generation with the intent to both strengthen the network as well as more effectively reach a region growing demographically younger.

With the assistance of our senior advisor Dave Hackett, APN leadership intentionally focused on millennial workers at their recent biennial gathering, but not as just a workshop at the conference. The leadership team chose millennials to be the daily host, to lead worship, to feature millennial-filled panels and more. They also arranged for childcare, making it possible for more millennials to attend.

What a difference these carefully selected, practical choices made! One-fifth of the 220 attendees were millennials. As a result, the average attendee age was well below 50 for the first time. Most importantly, the APN community gained deep insights into the way Millennial workers do mission work among Muslims seeking Jesus.

Besides bringing valuable ministry perspectives, millennials can effectively reach their peers. Increasingly, this is a crucial issue because millennials are the biggest demographic in most countries yet unreached by the Gospel. The mission force should map to the mission field.

For example, about 60% of the Middle East is under 30 years old. In comparison, about 40% of the United States and only 16% of Japan are under this age. In fact, the median age of the Middle East is 24.8 while, in contrast, the U.S. is 37.9 and Japan is 46.9 years old. Around the world, businesses and nonprofits alike wrestle with how to engage millennials. A recommended book is Millennials and Mission which illuminates the challenges and opportunities for Christian ministry. The implications for networks, however, are rarely addressed.

We are eager to see the story of ““Millennials in Mission”  unfold. Our daily work is increasing the effectiveness of networks and partnerships while remaining focused on accelerating the Great Commission. We see a special role for millennials when they’re effectively engaged in mission to reach growing numbers of unreached millennials.

We are thankful for your prayers and support which allow us to play a key role in advising and equipping the leaders of ever-evolving mission networks.  May the Body of Christ around the world be encouraged to even greater collaboration!

Together for the Gospel,

Dave Hackett, visionSynergy Associate Director and Senior Advisor

 

Rethinking Change

What brings change?  How do we become different people?  Some say it’s the people we care about and the challenges we face that change us. I think that’s part of it.  As followers of Jesus, we are also shaped by the Holy Spirit and Scripture. Some of our most life-changing moments happen when there is a confluence of these elements. Influential people, wisdom from past experiences and our faith guide us through personal challenges and we emerge transformed.

I experienced deep change when I was a pastor in my previous church.  After eight years as Associate Pastor, the Human Resources Committee suggested I take a three-month Sabbatical.  I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that.  On the one hand, it could’ve been a good thing and they may have wanted to invest in me – “Pastor, please go and be refreshed.”  On the other hand, it could’ve been a bad thing; they may have wanted to send a different message – “Pastor, please just go away.” I chose to believe the former.

I had three young kids at the time. Going away and leaving my wife alone for several months didn’t seem like a very good idea. My wife agreed.  So I broke the Sabbatical up into several shorter segments throughout the year. During that time, one of the best things I did was to take a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.”  Most of my friends warned me that it would wreck my life; meaning I would never be the same. They were right.  “Perspectives” opened my eyes and heart to the radical idea God is moving in the ordinary and the miraculous to reclaim, heal and restore every nation, tribe and tongue that was lost when sin wrecked our world.  The course showed this to be the central theme of Scripture; a narrative thread of human history and hidden truth embedded within every culture.  God has come to rescue all of us and His name is Jesus!

In the end, the course lived up to its reputation. I was deeply changed.  I finished with the deep conviction God was calling me to mobilize people to be part of this great global revival project. And to make sure I was paying attention, God gave me a sign I couldn’t miss.  Having taken the class in Pasadena, CA, I returned to my Washington home and sat down at my desk to read my mail.  There, on the top of the pile, was a letter from the Pastor Search Committee chair at BelPres.  The committee wanted me to apply for their Mission Pastor position. That was seventeen years ago.

What has brought change in your life?  What can you do to bring change now?  How can you know and connect with God’s call for your life?  “Perspectives” has been one of those transformational experiences for me. For that reason, I recommend it to those seeking change.  It is a big time commitment (15 weeks) and there is a lot to read.  It’s a challenge and challenge is nothing more than a catalyst for growth and an opportunity to be made different.

 

Perspectives is coming to BelPres September 5- December 19 .   

Children of the Desert

Many people in Turkmenistan living in the desert are often poor. Their souls, like the desert, are dry. There are 40,000 Turkmen living in this city completely surrounded by desert. The disparity is everywhere. Like their surroundings, the people are thirsty and living without hope.

One such man, named Myrat, lives with his 80-year old mother in a city that literally translates to “Desert Mountain.” Like the majority, Myrat and his mother had never heard the gospel. Day in and day out, they lived their lives in darkness; a darkness they didn’t even know they had. Despite their poverty, they were able to acquire a satellite dish and Myrat started watching Gospel Wave Media Ministry’s program. What started as curiosity turned into a longing to know and understand more. He continued watching the program, soaking up each and every word and eventually surrendering his life to Jesus Christ. It was after this that Myrat reached out to share his story with us.

There are three teams in Turkmenistan who travel and follow up with people like Myrat. One is a pastor, whom we will call Pastor “River.”  After hearing Myrat’s story, Pastor “River” traveled 700-800 km (420-480 miles) to meet him. On his first visit, he asked Myrat if he could pray for his mom. Immediately, Myrat answered “No.” She was a Muslim and would be quite angry. Later, when his mom found out that Pastor ”River” wanted to pray for her, she did indeed become angry. So angry that she did not get the opportunity for Pastor “River” to pray for her!

On Pastor ‘River’s” second visit, he did pray with Myrat’s mom and she accepted Christ as her Savior! They still live in the desert surrounded by darkness and disparity and they are two: two who are lights, two who spread hope and two who are watching and growing through Gospel Wave’s program!

 

Enejan came to Christ watching Gospel Wave’s program together with her son Esau. The more they watched, the more their hearts were opened and with the Holy Spirit’s work, they both accepted Christ as their Savior. Eventually, Esau moved to another town, leaving Enejan as the only believer in her town of 20,000. She continued to watch the TV program as her only source to grow in her faith. Last fall, she received her very own Bible allowing her to read it anytime along with watching the program.

Before coming to Christ, Enejan’s livelihood was sitting by a famous shrine in a cemetery. People visiting this shrine paid her to pray for them and invite spirits to come to them. When Enejan found Christ, she experienced Hope for the first time in her life. She still goes to that famous shrine and, instead of leading people in darkness, she tells people about the Light – Jesus Christ – and that they truly need Him. Daily she boldly shares the salvation that only comes through Christ.

It didn’t take long for her to be reported to the authorities and the KGB showed up. They interrogated her, yet she boldly shared the gospel with these officers. Seeing that interrogation was not working, the KGB threatened her, informing her they would arrest her, take away all that she has, everything she holds dear. Enejan boldly responded “You can take everything, you can crucify me. I will not give up my belief in Christ! Even if you kill me, I will live!”

 

Nearly three million Turkmen live in Turkmenistan, located in South Central Asia along the Caspian Sea. Their culture is influenced in the past by both the Turkic conquerors, who imposed their language on them and the Arabs, who forced them to convert to Islam. Years past, they developed a strong ethnic identity as “children of the desert” because they would plunder rich caravans of Persian traders.

Please pray for the Christian missionaries at Gospel Wave Media Ministry in Central Asia as they risk their lives daily to share the gospel of Christ, names have been changed to protect their identities. For more information go to gopeople.org  

Becoming Aware of Being Unaware

Brent Christie is the founder and former executive director of Jubilee REACH.

Race – a “hot button” issue and perhaps the most explosive issue in our society. Conversations about race and racism can be very uncomfortable, socially awkward, even a bit dangerous, as latent emotions, perceptions, and pain become unmasked.

I thought I was ready, even eager, to engage in the racial conversation when I was invited by friends and partners within the Bellevue School District to participate in a five-day conference on race: “Courageous Conversations.” That’s five days among 900 racially diverse “strangers” from school districts throughout the country.

The first prerequisite for participation in the conference was that I “stay engaged.” No matter how personal or perilous the dialogue on race, every participant was to stay engaged and committed to the conversation. The second related and requisite tenet was to “expect and experience discomfort.” I was about to discover (when unpacking my own and others’ perspectives and experiences about race) things were going to get uncomfortable. It didn’t take long.

In response to 26 statements of what I consider normal, everyday life and social experiences, each of us was asked to privately score “our truths” based upon our race or color. After totaling our scores, we silently lined up around the room, highest scores to lowest. Without a sound, 250 diversely mixed people became ranked according to their racial “truth experience score.” White males formed the front of the line and then clustered with white females. From there, the line extended from lighter to darker shades of brown to black at the very end of the line. The quiet was palpable; the visual, profound. Then our facilitator asked who had college degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.’s by a show of hands. Ultimately, more hands remained raised at the end of the line.

Discomfort – The conference called Courageous Conversations just got real. Voices began to speak. Voices of color spoke most: first from observations, then from inner thoughts and feelings, then from profound personal stories of real life experiences. Polite turned to painful. As the conversation became more personal, penetrating and risky, the more silent I and my white colleagues became. Retreating to my “white male comfort club” was no longer a choice. My gut was churning.

Face to face in public for the next few days, I was facilitated through a deeper dialogue. In smaller groups, we unpacked. Through a persistent process of awkward (often gut-wrenching) dialogue, I recognized how truly unconscious I was of my privilege. Being oblivious to my state of entitlement and white privilege, I can actually irritate another person.

I absorbed stories from black and brown people, professionals with Ph.D.’s, being pulled over by police being told, “you people take advantage of our rights…” I empathized with a highly educated black mother defending her children when a white school teacher insisted her 8-year-old son “didn’t belong” and demanded he be placed in special education classes. When that well-educated black mother became upset and persistent, she was dismissed as “irrational and angry,” asked to calm down or be removed from the school.

Using only eye contact, we were directed to select a person of a different race to engage in a direct one-on-one conversation. Earlier, I had observed a black woman speaking in our general session. I was drawn to her pleasant, thoughtful manner. Fortunately, we made eye contact at the same time and our gesture to one another sealed our mutual selection of each other to engage in a courageous conversation. I learned Bernadette was a Ph.D. and school board trustee for one of the largest school districts in the country. Learning I was from Seattle, Bernadette explained how she loved Nordstrom. Then she shared her truth, “When I shop at Nordstrom, I always dress well. I have learned that when I dress casually, I’m looked at differently and I don’t receive the same service or attention.”

Bernadette said that she would be leaving the conference early to tend to a civil unrest issue (a video that had gone viral) in her district. The video was of her! She had challenged the stance of her white male superintendent on a racial matter at her school board meeting. As she left the meeting, the superintendent arranged for the police to forcibly arrest her as she departed the building. I watched the YouTube video in disbelief.  Now knowing Bernadette, I was angry.

The third tenet of Courageous Conversations required I “speak my truth,” not passing off my own thoughts or assumptions as “some people.” I must own my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions without fear of offending, appearing angry or sounding ignorant.

The fourth and final tenet was to “expect and accept a lack of closure.” Conversations about race usually provide no resolution but can perpetuate a process of learning, understanding, even appreciation and perhaps empathy.

Intense – that is one way of describing “my truth” of five days of Courageous Conversation in New Orleans. I certainly became aware of how unaware I was. Unaware and unconscious of the liberties, privileges, even entitlements being a white male affords me in our society. Douglas Fitch, a Methodist pastor wrote, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” I realize that many of my beliefs on race are based on misconceptions because I have never experienced being a person of color in school, living in a white culture, entering the workforce or pursuing a career,

For racial conditions to change, I also realized it is not my role to play “savior” or be the “big white fix.” Rather I must change – I must be the change. I must be culturally competent and conscious, and deconstruct the barriers and biases that assume there is something wrong with people based on their racial or ethnic makeup. I must be the change I want to see, stay engaged, experience discomfort, speak my truth, and expect and accept this is not going to be easy. I must get comfortable with discomfort.

And to Bernadette, on the chance that you may ever read this, I want to say “thanks.” “Thank you for speaking your truth to me, for connecting your eyes with mine, allowing me to hear your truth and see your heart as a mother, a courageous leader, and a friend during an intense week of personal discovery.”

 

 

June 28-29 at Odle Middle School: Beyond Diversity is a powerful, personal transforming 2-day seminar designed to help leaders, educators, students, parents, administrators and community participants understand the impact of race on students learning and investigate the role that racism plays in institutionalizing academic achievement disparities.
Get more information or register online at courageousconversations.com