We’ve been in Atlanta for a little over two months. This is our first time to live in the suburbia. I thought that the suburbs were mainly a white-flight area, with repetitive model homes, and strip malls everywhere. Why much of that is true, what I didn’t expect to see is so much ethnic diversity.
My suburbia-stereotype was blown apart when I visited our bank last week. As I stood at the ATM, I noticed that I was the only white person among a Pakistan teller, an Afro-Caribbean family chatting in some creole dialect, a Latina señora making a deposit, and two Middle-Eastern women in hijab head-coverings. Wikipedia says that our county “is the most racially diverse county in the state of Georgia, and one of the most racially diverse counties in the country.” I thought of the suburbs as primarily white, but according to a recent study, almost 60 % of Pan-Asians, half of all Hispanics, and 40 % of African Americans live in suburbia. The cliché is half-true: “the nations have moved to the cities of America” – its probably more correct to say “to the American suburbs.”
I don’t know what all this means for our family’s future in church planting, but I’m praying that God would lead us to take advantage of this unique opportunity in American history. The need is tremendous! We’ll see where God leads.
Thank you for being our friends as we prepare for church planting.
Grace and peace,
Allen & Sandi Smith
I’m excited to announce that I have accepted a call from Perimeter Church (PCA) to be a Church Planting Intern for the next two-years!! We are now in full gear to move to Atlanta in early July.
Though we are no longer in Peru, we are still missionaries. We believe that God has called us to plant a church in the third largest mission field in the world – the good ole US of A. Our denomination fully recommended us to pursue church planting last fall, but we feel that we need more time to adjust back to the States as well as receive more training. We’ve been gone for nearly a decade and America is definitely not the same! We are missionaries transitioning between two cultures.
Perimeter Church has one of the best church planting training programs in America. They have over two decades of experience, having successfully planted 26 churches around the Metro-Atlanta as well as helped plant over 40 churches internationally. Although we are taking two more years to prepare, we’ll be light years ahead when we begin a church. After the two years, I’ll be free to plant anywhere in America. So one of the first items on the agenda this next year is to identify a target area in which to plant. Who knows, maybe we will plant a church near you!
KEEP UP WITH US!
We’d love for you to join us on our new church planting adventure. I cannot ethically add your email address to our new database without your permission. So if you’d like to continue to follow us, please go to the following link below and sign up:
Grace and peace,
Allen & Sandi Smith
Here are the songs our family has listened to over and over as we moved back to the States.
What have been your favorite songs as you transition to a new phase of life?
- The first several months is survival mode. Allen, moving your family back to the States will be chaotic (see previous post). From the time you purchase your one-way plane ticket until several months after you land, you will be in for a ride. So don’t have high expectations for your wife and kids. Your only goal is not to kill anybody. If you do that, you’ll be doing great! So don’t make any long term plans. Don’t make a lot a new rules for your kids. Just breathe in. Now, breath out.
- Transition back to the States takes much longer than you’ll expected. Allen, you are not going to want to hear this, but you will not be settled for two to three years. Finding a new job and a new home takes time. And even after that, it takes several cycles of going through re-occuring calendar events for it to feel normal again.
- Waiting is the name of the game. This is similar to #2, but a bit more spiritual. While you wait, God will reveal many of your idols that you presently cannot see. You will be in a holding pattern until you repent of your idols. Be encouraged for you will literally learn Psalm 23:2 – God will make you rest and lie down in green pastures.
- Give lots of grace. Allen, give grace to your extended family and friends, for they have no idea what you are going through. Give grace to your immediate family, for none of them have ever gone through anything like this, and they will struggle just like you. And give grace to yourself, for you will walk through a dark valley and hit many walls. What I’m about to tell you is completely un-American: it’s OK to be down and even depressed for a season. It’s a normal part of the transition process.
- It’s OK to feel invisible and out of place. When you left for Peru, you were a square. When you lived in Peru, you became a circle. When you move back, you will changed again; you will become a triangle. Because you’ve changed so many times, you’ll face two identity problems: (1) All your American family and friends still think you are a square, and treat you like a square. That’s why they will say things like, “Are you glad to be home?!” You will struggle to answer that question. (2) There is another problem: when you move back, you will still think of yourself as a circle. You will still see yourself as a Peru missionary, but that too will change. You will no longer be a square or a circle; you will become a triangle! In short, everyone will be confused. And that’s completely OK. More than anything, you will rediscover that your true identity is in Christ. This will stabilize you in the midst of your identity crisis.
- You will not pick right back up with your former colleagues. This will throw you for a loop. You are tempted to falsely think you can jump right back into relationships that you once had. They will be nice to you, but they honestly will not know what to do with you. You’re no longer working overseas somewhere, but now you’ll be on their turf. Some might even see you as a threat. So slow down, re-learn the terrain, re-build your networks, and don’t over assume good graces with your former peers & colleagues.
- Pray for advocates. This is a direct overflow of #5 & 6: because you feel invisible and cannot jump right back into the game, what you need more than ever are advocates. This will become essential for your job search. Most hire people with whom they have a relational connection. So begin to pray that God will rise up advocates who connect you to the right people and the right job.
Many have asked if we are going back to Peru. Watch this video to find out…
The transition bridge is a metaphor that has greatly helped our family understand our re-entry back into American life. It has given us perspective on where we are right now. It has allowed us to give each other grace. And helped us pace ourselves as we slowly cross the bridge. For those who have lived in another country or have loved ones who have lived in another country for extended period of time, understanding this bridge is extremely helpful. The Transition Bridge has five stages that you must cross to get to the other side; here they are:
- Settled – All is comfortable and familiar. Routines are established. Roles are defined. Relationships are intertwined with others. You feel like you belong. Life is predictable. Cultural clues in daily life are known and accepted. Your feet are planted on solid ground.
- Unsettling – You’ve stepped out onto the swinging bridge with fear and excitement. Routines are broken. Roles are quickly changing. Loose ends are everywhere. Goodbyes are never-ending. You and your family express stress in exaggerated ways. Little things about the culture that didn’t bother you start to bother you again like they did in the beginning. You feel like you are in the waiting area at the airport for months.
- Chaos! – You’re in the middle of the swinging, suspended bridge without sure-footing. You’re confused, unstable and scared. You’re totally dependent upon others. You have no idea who you are anymore. You feel invisible and misunderstood. You don’t know where you are going. You blow all problems out of proportion. One day you are overcome with joy. The next day you are in a panic about your future. Chaos usually begins right before the move and lasts several months after.
- Re-settling – You’re not swinging so much. You’re coming out of the fog a little. You begin to start new routines and rhythms. You begin to process what you just went through. Though you begin to dream again, you also grieve the losses. You feel like you are walking through a dark valley and may enter depression. You begin to make new friends. You try out tentative roles. You rediscover God’s call on your life. For many this is the longest part of the bridge. It can last 1-3 years.
- Settled – You’re back on solid ground. You’ve found the new normal. You’re content with your new routines and schedules. You have new eyes: you’ve become much more aware of yourself and other cultures. You’ve learned to embrace the good, bad, and ugly of American culture. You’ve incorporated into your new lifestyle several wonderful things from your former culture. You’re better equipped to endure the hardships, relate to strangers, and live life as a pilgrim on his way to his true home. The sign that you have left the bridge is when you have a new job, a new home, and a new community.
When we first arrived back in the States in April 2014, we were definitely in the Chaos stage. It was exhilarating, scary, and confusing all at the same time. We are presently in the Re-settling stage, eager to get settled again. All we need now is a job, a house, and a new community! In a future post, I’ll share several things I wished I would have known before stepping out onto the bridge.
When we were at the debriefing center last April (DAR), our counselor asked our group (missionaries from all over the world) to collectively describe each stage of the bridge. Here’s is what we came up with…
Here is Adeline’s artistic depiction of the Transition Bridge…
If you’re on the bridge right now, I’d love to know where you are. Also, if you’ve ever crossed this bridge, I’d love to know your experience and the things you learned.
I don’t know about you, but I often feel like a failure when it comes to evangelism.
I’m all too familiar with Paul’s charge to pastors to “do the work as an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Sometimes I’ve excused myself saying, “I don’t think evangelism is my spiritual gift.” That’s no excuse. I don’t have to be gifted in evangelism to do the work of an evangelist. So one of my goals this year is to become a better evangelist. In order to prime the pump, I’ve been praying everyday for opportunities, reading books and blogs on evangelism, and listening to other evangelists share their wisdom.
One jewel I’ve found is John Leonard’s little book, Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Everyday. In chapter 10, he shares a struggle that I relate to: a bent towards efficiency can undermine our work in evangelism. He describes his typical day…
“I’m a person who likes to get things done. People get in my way; they slow me down. I often do everything I can to avoid interacting with people so I can get to work being a pastor. I gas up at a pay outside with my credit card. I get cash from an ATM machine. I even go to the self-checkout lane to avoid slow and inefficient clerks. I zip through my to-do lists so I can get to my office, close my door, and begin strategizing how I can reach my community with the gospel” (p. 113).
Living in Peru has given me a new lens to see Americans better. One thing Peruvians have taught me to see is that Americans love efficiency! It’s not that Peruvians dislike efficiency, it’s just not as high on their priority list. Being on time for a meeting is not as important as talking to a friend on the street.
Perhaps our drive for efficiency has narrowed our view on evangelism as a project to be completed. This project-driven evangelism has a memorized presentation that we must get through to feel like we have actually shared the gospel with someone. To this project approach Leonard says, “We consider it a failure if we do not present the entire gospel, or if the person we are witnessing to doesn’t come to faith in Christ. In a real approach to evangelism, we do not have to take the person from A to Z in a single presentation. All we’re looking to do is to help the person take the next step, or just go from A to B” (p. 108).
What a relief! Sometimes all I can do is take people from A to B. An evangelist does not have to be in a hurry to finish his evangelistic task. Like Peruvians we focus on people rather than projects. Jonathan Dodson is exactly right: project evangelism is very efficient, but love-driven evangelism is inefficient (see his podcast, starting around 41 minutes). How do I make the shift from project evangelism to love-driven evangelism? Again, Leonard offers advise on how to be an inefficient evangelist,
Go out of your way to interact with people. Stop paying for gas at the pump; go inside and pay. if you do this, you could have a worldwide ministry! At the gas stations I frequent there are Moroccans, Pakistanis, Sikhs from India, Mexicans, and Guatemalans, just to name a few cultural backgrounds. I don’t have to go halfway around the world to have an international ministry-all I have to do is walk inside to pay for my gas.
I probably won’t be able to get an entire gospel presentation in before I pay for my gas, but I can plant seeds and get to know the clerk. I can ask questions about their family. I can ask how I might pray for them. Isn’t this is part of what it means to be a “fisher of men” by fishing for opportunities?
I guess I’m going to stop paying for gas at the pump. And who knows, maybe the Holy Spirit will lead me to good soil so I can share the good news with my gas-station friend.
One word summarizes 2014 for the Smith family – transition. Last April our family moved back to the States. One of the best things my family did this past year was attend a week of debriefing and renewal (DAR) for cross-cultural missionaries in Palmer Lake, Colorado. One of our counselors recommended a slew a books that I normally would not have picked out for myself; books on soul care, counseling, and rest. I’m so glad I read out of my comfort zone and took my counselor’s advice. I feel like I’ve entered 2015 a healthier, more holistic man with a more integrated mind.
1. Adrenaline & Stress, by Archibald Hart M.D.
While at DAR, I was told that if I don’t change my lifestyle, that I will have a heart attack in 10 years. We took many tests, one of them was the well-known Holmes & Rahe Stress Scale. For those who’ve never heard of this test, it measures the amount of stress you’ve experienced within the past year. The total score is on a scale from 0- 1,000.
- If you score zero, you’re not living. If you score 1,000, then you’re about to die.
- If you score below 150, then you’re not experiencing much stress.
- If you score above 300, then you will get ill soon.
I became a believer in this stress test when Sandi & I took it our first year in seminary. We both scored over 300. Just weeks later we celebrated the big Y2K New Year’s Eve sick as dogs. Instead of parting with Prince like it was 1999, we were tossing and turning on our bed with fever. They said at DAR that the average missionary scores between 800-900!! Thankfully, this time I scored 481 – although it was still way over my score back in 1999. Our counselor recommended a book I would have never picked out for myself. This might sound stupid, but the cover was completely stuck in the 80s, which whispered to me: “out-of-date, and out-of-touch.” Boy, was I wrong. Dr. Hart’s book was written for type-A personalities who are addicted to adrenaline. I had no idea I could get high from cortisol. I won’t go into all the details of this incredible book, but it is key for preventing a heart attack. Let me just mention a few important points:
- Most adrenaline junkies don’t know they are addicted because they enjoy being under positive stress – it makes them feel alive.
- Stress is not bad and can’t always be avoided; the key is to learn how to come down off your adrenaline buzz and REST. Many times this down times feels more like depression – which is completely normal and necessary for the body to reset itself.
- If I do not proactively fight my “hurry sickness” and learn what triggers my stress and learn how to bring down my adrenaline levels, over time I will have a heart attack. Bottom line. Simple as that.
If you are a thrill junkie and/or a workaholic, consider giving this book a read. You’ll finish it in a day or two. And it just might save your life!
2. The Emotional Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero.
Like so many Americans, I was taught to ignore my feelings, especially the not-so-fun emotions like sadness, fear, and anger. In this book, Scazzero argues that “emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable… it’s not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature” (pp. 11, 17). And that dichotomy explained much of my walk with Christ – rigorous to love God with my head and hands, but not really knowing how to love with my heart. So when I read in the beginning of the book that “to the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well” (p. 26), I was resolved to explore the uncharted waters of my emotional life.
After addressing in the first three chapters the problem of an emotionally unhealthy life, Scazzero shows us a way to live a more integrated, healthy life. He does so by teaching on basic counseling topics such as the necessity self-awareness (ch. 4), family of origin patterns (ch. 5), the unavoidable ‘wall’ (ch. 6), dealing with loss (ch. 7), sabbath and the daily office (ch. 8), and embracing conflict (ch. 9). In fact, this book has become the basis of Peter & Geri Scazzero’s ministry to help church leadership integrated emotionally healthy spirituality principles into the fabric of church culture. On their website, they have provided many great resources and tools. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality laid a great theological and practical foundation for me to journey deeper into my heart as well as the hearts of others. I need to re-read this book!
3. The Rest of God, by Mark Buchanan
Dr. Hart taught me all sorts of methods for resting and Scazzero reminded me of its practical importance, but Mark Buchanan’s book gave me a biblical theology of its beauty. On just an artistic level, Mark is an incredible writer: profound, poetic, honest, and charming. Although the subtitle states: “Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath,” this book is much bigger than a mere biblical argument for sabbatarianism. I guess he hooked me in the intro when he said, “I became a Sabbath-keeper the hard way: either that, or die.” That’s where I was when our family moved back from Peru.
The style and cadence of this book made me want to rest. God used this book to slow me down and discover the deeper rhythms of sabbath woven into the very fabric of our world. It stretched and renewed my understanding of sabbath than merely stopping for 24 hours each Sunday. For example, a theology of play is necessary for recovering Sabbath (ch. 9). Most strict sabbatarian views would see rest and play at odds with each other. Mark helps see that sometimes we rest the best at play. Also, I loved that each chapter ended with a “sabbath liturgy” – a suggested practice to help the sabbath sink in deeper into our soul and rhythms of life.If you are already convinced that you need to rest more, but need a book to help you to rest better, this is the perfect book for you.
4. Anatomy of the Soul, by Curt Thompson, M.D.
Of all the books I read this past year, this one was the most interesting. Dr. Thompson integrates the latest findings in neuroscience to show how the mind actually changes. Thompson borrows John Calvin’s description of the Psalter as an Anatomy of the Soul. His book illustrates how our minds embody our physical self, that is profoundly relational, regulates our flow of energy, and is interconnected with other’s minds. He goes on to say that the biblical concept of the “heart” is manifested most profoundly at the level of the prefrontal cortex (the front part of our brain).
Basically, this book explains neurologically how people change. Thompson’s premise is that a healthy, mature person has a fully integrated mind. Half of the book reads like a scientific text book for dummies and the other half reads like a guide for holistic, biblical change.
One of the most shocking moments in the book is when Thompson says, “there is no such thing as an individual brain.” I’m still trying to sort that one out. He continues: “transformation requires a collaborative interaction, with one person empathically listening and responding to the other so that the speaker has the experience of feeling felt by another” (p. 137). In other words, storytelling is essential for making disciples in community. He explains that by telling and listening to each other’s stories, it opens the door to a different future. When we tell our story and others empathically listen, our brains become more integrated by forming new neurological pathways which then changes how we think and feel about our memories. Crazy stuff! An Anatomy of the Soul is a very stimulating read.
5. A Loving Life, by Paul Miller
In this follow-up book from A Praying Life, Miller’s A Loving Life is really a devotional commentary on the Book of Ruth. As I read through this book, I realized that the story of Ruth is about the heart-wrenching transition of Naomi & Ruth. This book drips with the gospel; Miller beautifully shows a cruciform life reflected in Naomi, Ruth, & Boaz. I was greatly helped by his definition of hesed love as a “one-way, stubborn love… that isn’t centered on fairness” but centered on death and ends in resurrection.
I began to read this book on my darkest day in 2014. Much of this book was read with tears; and I found a very healing read about God’s hesed love in the Gospel according to Ruth. To give you a taste of Miller’s mastery of gospel-centered living, consider his conceptual model he calls the “J-curve“. Christian Scholars say that a biblical worldview of history is linear instead of cyclical; but the line is not flat, says Miller; “it is actually shaped like a J, beginning with life and then going down into death and then upward to resurrection, a J-curve. Jesus lives a J-curve. He describes his life as a seed dying and rising again (John 12:24). Gospel stories are possible only because God actively shapes history, bringing life where there is death” (p. 68). What a great teaching tool! I agree with Miller that our hearts were made for gospel stories. All of our lives must go through the dip in the J, what Peter Scazzero calls “the Wall” and what David calls “the Valley” in Psalm 23. Before there is new life, there must always be a death. Miller provides extremely helpful pastoral insight to living-out this J-curve shaped life:
“[God teaches] us to love by overloading our systems so we are forced to cry for grace. God permits our lives to become overwhelming, putting us on the downward slope of the J-curve so we come to the end of ourselves. I encouraged my friend to embrace the downward path, not to push against it or worry about where his feelings were with his wife… Seeing the gospel as a journey remaps our stories by embedding them in the larger story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. His normal becomes our normal” (p. 69).
Miller then shares what he has learned by going through the J-curve:
- We don’t know how or when resurrection will come. It is God’s work, not ours.
- We don’t even know what a resurrection will look like. We can’t demand the shape or timing of a resurrection.
- Like Jesus, we must embrace the death that the Father has put in front of us. The path to resurrection is through dying, not fighting.
- If we endure, resurrection always comes. God is alive!
“We can’t do death. But we can’t do resurrection. We can’t demand resurrection—we wait for it” (p. 71). I was at the bottom of the “J” when I picked up this book: I had to die to a vision that I was not willing to let go. Watching Ruth die over and over, helped me die; and I found that my heart was re-oriented to love again. Resurrection quietly came. If you find yourself fighting in the bottom of the J, and you are confused about what is coming next in your life, then this book might really encouraged your soul.
Sandi’s Pick: Notes from a Blue Bike, by Tsh Oxenreider
From Sandi: “Notes from a Blue Bike was such a wonderful book to drape the transition from our South American life to begin living in North America again. We have come back mostly Peruvian, especially our four daughters who had spent the entirety of their lives in Peru. I knew I had to help our family incorporate much of our beloved Peruvian culture into our new life so that we might successfully thrive, live simply and maintain a healthy lifestyle and worldview. I had traveled back and forth between continents enough times to know that blending two cultures into our new life might be tricky: we wanted to maintain many of our ways in Peru while avoiding many of the North American vices. Tsh addresses the issues of food, work, education & travel and how to practically incorporate the goodness of what was learned living internationally into our new North American life.”
So if you are an expat looking for practical ways on how to incorporate lessons from cross-cultural into your new life (things like eating fresh, living simply, and prioritizing travel), this might be a great book for you.