Making a Big Mid-Life Decision

Next week Sandi & I will travel to Miami for a one-week assessment to see if we are a good fit to plant in South Florida. If you remember from our last update, we were suppose to go in early March, but they moved the assessment to April. We are very thankful for Sandi’s parents driving all the way from Louisiana to take care of our girls in ATL.

The need for gospel centered, missional churches in Miami is huge. The challenge is also immense. I’ve been told by many that South FL is a graveyard of failed church plants. That’s why we are interested in partnering with Redeemer City-To-City as well as with Perimeter Church in ATL to form a solid support network. Next week is all about whether or not our family is up for the challenge to plant in the rocky soil of Miami.

This month I (Allen) turn 40. Reaching midlife has made me reflective. I can honestly say that in the next few weeks, Sandi and I will be making one of the biggest decisions of our adult lives. Just this week, I read an article by David Brooks in the NY Times on Middle-Aged turning points. Brooks quotes the theologian Karl Barth about reaching midlife:

“The sowing is behind, now it is time to reap. The run has been taken, now it is time to leap. Preparation has been made; now it is time for the venture of the work itself.”  

We truly feel that our entire life up to this point has been preparing our family for something like Miami. From all the short-term mission trips I took as a child, to living in Guatemala post-college, to raising bi-lingual daughters in a Peruvian urban city for nearly a decade – we are ready to make the leap.

So please pray for us! There are 3 requests that I’m asking God:

  1. For clarity about the Redeemer City-To-City partnership in Miami. Are we a good fit?
  2. For confirmation in our hearts. Is God opening or closing the door for us in Miami?
  3. For conviction. Is God calling us to Miami in a way that if we don’t go, we will be disobedient to his will?

We covet your prayers next week as we go through assessment. And we so appreciate your friendship and interest in our family as we make this life decision!

FullSizeRender

Merry Christmas // Feliz Navidad

Wishing you all the hope, peace, love & joy that comes by resting in the one king who makes all things right, Jesus Christ!
013 (4)

Merry Christmas //Feliz Navidad to all our friends, family & gospel partners,

Allen & Sandi Smith

Abigail (13), Adeline (11), Mary Allen (8) & Eva (5)

Multiculturalism

12107284_10153778465406349_7354565869008776315_n

It’s no secret that the social topography of America is rapidly changing. According to the Census Bureau, the United States will be a majority-minority nation by 2044. That means that Hispanics, African-Americans, & Asians will out number White Americans. And all to often, the church lags behind the cultural trend. Our denomination (PCA) is a prime example; we are 80% white with only 14% Korean pastors, 1.2% African-American pastors, and very few Hispanic pastors.

In Atlanta we have a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve. Perimeter has created a great laboratory to learn how to do multicultural ministry. For one, I’m part of a church planting cohort that represents every major ethnic group in America. Sam (left above) is a 2nd Gen. American Korean worship leader, Dereko is an African-American fire fighter, and Jorge is a Columbian pastor. I am so honored to develop friendships with these great guys so that I can learn from their stories, perspectives, and struggles. My stereotypes will only be broken down by forming meaningful relationships with people different than me.

Perimeter Church is also leveraging it’s resources to learn more about multicultural ministry. Recently, my boss, Bob Cargo, invited key Hispanic leaders from all across the country & abroad to discuss key issues. Leaders came from Miami, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Tijuana Mexico, Cuba, Atlanta and Birmingham. It was very enlightening as I heard about the complexity of doing Hispanic ministry among first and second generation families.

Finally, where we live helps us envision what’s to come. Our county (Gwinnett) has just recently become a majority-minority county. Over 50 languages are spoken here – one of the most diverse counties in the country. Where we are, America will become in several decades. We are truly living in the future! My hope is that God will use our cohort and context to helps us better grasp how to do ministry in a multicultural world.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that God would guide our family to the right place to plant a church. We are learning to trust God as we wait for Him to lead us. For those who know us, this does not come naturally for us! In the next few months, we will be exploring some potential places to plant.
  • Pray for Sandi as she recovers from shingles. People of her age & good health normally don’t get shingles, but her doctor said the inevitable stress of all our transition and uncertainty has probably lowered Sandi’s immune system. We are thankful she is on the upswing and has the support from an amazing discipleship group at Perimeter who daily reminds her to rest in God’s truth. 
  • Pray for Rob. I met Rob at one of our daughter’s volleyball games. After he found out that I was a pastor, he opened up and shared that he and his wife had recently separated. He believed that God had sent me to him. After sharing the gospel with him over lunch later that month, he became a born again Christian and wants to join the church. Please pray that Rob would be able to reconcile with his wife. He says she is not a believer, so please pray for her as well.

newsletter pic2

Living in Suburbia

6a00d83452b1e169e200e551ccd2488834-800wi

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.

11053248_10153690312391349_625798375178554902_n

Family Update 

  • Our biggest news this month is that we officially have our first teenager in the house. Abbie turned 13 on 9/2. I’m so grateful that God has entrusted us with such a caring, generous, missionary-minded daughter who truly loves Jesus and others. I wish I could be more like her in so many ways.
  • Sandi & I celebrated our 16th anniversary last month. We took the Marta Train to Decatur to enjoy a night out on the city as we reflected over our many adventures. I appreciate more every year what a special woman God has given me who continues to follow me no matter how difficult the change.
  • School is in full swing. The older girls love Perimeter Christian School. I’ve been impressed that they are learning much of what I learned in seminary. Their teachers truly view their job to equip our kids to enter pubic high school as gospel missionaries. Abbie & Adeline have also joined their school’s volleyball team and love it. Mary Allen is in an elementary school right down the street and has become an avid reader. And little Eva is still at home as Mom’s daily sidekick and turns five at the end of this month.

 Prayer Points 

  • Future Church Plant. As I introduce myself at Perimeter as a Church Planting Intern, the next question is always: “So where are you going to plant?” To which I reply, “We don’t know yet.” Some follow with a question, “Where would you like to plant a church?” And I usually say, “Somewhere hot. Somewhere urban. And somewhere multicultural.” I’ve begun networking with key leaders to investigate where God might be leading us. We are anxious to find out our next steps, so please ask God to help us be patient for His timing.
  • Wisdom Developing Relationships. We have opportunities all around us. Many of our neighbors are unbelievers. Also, we are helping launch a new worship service at Perimeter, and we will be hosting a small group in our house. Also, our girls are in discipleship groups. Please pray that we’ll have wisdom in deepening relationships that will result in friendship that last longer than our internship.

Thank you for being our friends as we prepare for church planting.

 Grace and peace,

Allen & Sandi Smith

Smith Family Update: Moving to Atlanta!

Prayer Card Front

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:

http://eepurl.com/bllbtL

Grace and peace,

Allen & Sandi Smith

7 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself Before Returning to America

2014_06_23_15_08_31
We all know that hindsight is 20/20. God doesn’t give us a script for each stage of life. John Flavel famously quoted: The providence of God is like Hebrew words—it can be read only backwards.” We had traveled back and forth between countries for nearly 10 years, and even experienced reverse culture shock, but
I knew moving back to America was going to be unlike anything I had ever experienced. I read many books and articles about re-entry and re-acclimation, but my future was foggy.
So if I could get into a DeLorean with Michael J. Fox, flip the flux capacitor, and travel back one year, here are 7 things I would tell myself:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.
If you have lived in another country, what would you say to yourself if you could travel back in time? I’d love to know your thoughts!
illustration-flux-capacitor

The Transition Bridge: Moving From One Culture To Another

Abbie's Bridge
Artist: Abigail Smith

 

The transition bridge is a metaphor that has greatly helped our family understand our re-entry back into American lifeIt 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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…

IMG_0600 (Large) - Version 2
Photo Credit: Susan Canida

Here is Adeline’s artistic depiction of the Transition Bridge…

Adeline's 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.

 

Inefficient Evangelism at the Gas Pump

gas_station

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.