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Jun 2

The Good Missionary

The Good Missionary

As normal, I am sure like you, I read lots of emails, magazines, newsletters, and blog posts.

There are those moments that I run across an article that I send very deeply is one that should be shared with the world. Today was one of those moments.  I couldn’t help but have a “WOW” moment after reading it.  I actually re-read the article!

I think EVERY Pastor, Staff Member, Church leader, Para-church ministry leader and others should read this!  In my humble opinion, this is a MUST read!

I’d love to know what you think!


The following article is located at:

TheGoodMissionaryImageThe Good Missionary

An African orphan on what he loves (and doesn’t) about short-term mission teams.

Samuel Ikua Gachagua and Claire Diaz-Ortiz

I owe my life to missionaries. Growing up as an AIDS orphan in rural Kenya, missionaries—some long-term, some short-term—intervened at key junctions in my life.

Missionaries helped start the children’s home that saved me from being destitute. Missionaries sent some of my most beloved friends, mentors, and supporters to my doorstep. And through the years I learned the difference between mission teams that helped and those that didn’t. Perhaps my story will be a tool for your own discernment as you reach out to others.

For the first time, I saw what it was like to be the one offering help.

I lost my father at a young age and was soon abandoned by my mother as well. So at the age of 11, I lived with my 13-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister. We found ways to survive, selling plastic bags of water to earn money for food. But we regularly dropped out of school.

My life changed when a pair of pastors—one Kenyan, one American—started a children’s home. When I was able to live there, I knew my life had changed forever. One day, after a few years of living there, I met two young American women who were traveling through the area. They had blonde hair that hung in their eyes, and they talked to me in a grown-up way I’d rarely been talked to before.

They lived at my orphanage for a year, starting a non-profit called Hope Runs, and ultimately bringing me to the United States. The book Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption tells the story of the strange, makeshift family we have formed.

At first, though, I was wary of them, and so were my friends. Living in an orphanage, I’d had many experiences with missionaries who came to help over the years. Some had done just that, ultimately changing my life and the lives of my peers. Some had only added to our hardship (more on that later). White people—mzungus, as we call them in Kenya—had not always been the best visitors. What would it be like to have this pair of girls around for so long? With time, though, I grew to know, trust, and love them.

Over time, I understood in a way that many of my friends did not, that mzungus couldn’t drop their lives in the U.S. to live with my friends and me in our orphanage. I saw, eventually, that sometimes good things could happen in those few days when missionaries were there.

Years later, I would gain a much more comprehensive perspective. When I came to start high school in the U.S., I felt that my American peers saw me like the missionaries did—like a needy orphan. With time, though, I learned to walk and talk and think like my new high school friends around me. Most important, I learned what it meant to be able to extend resources to others.

Focus less on “helping,” and more on cross-cultural exchange.

In my senior year of high school, I ran a campaign that made the local news, collecting thousands of pairs of running shoes for my peers in orphanages back home. The year after high school, I took this concept of service a step further and spent a year volunteering on a service project in Ecuador. For the first time, I saw what it was like to walk into a community and be the one offering the help.

Although these experiences have given me a more complete perspective on missionary work than I ever had growing up in my orphanage, many of the thoughts and feelings I had as a child about the strange white people that came to visit still ring true. Here are five things I have learned about being a good missionary from being on the other side, the side of the beneficiary, the one being helped.

1. Rethink the goals of your short-term mission trip.

In the orphanage, I saw many short-term missionaries come and go. Again and again I was amazed by how many of them were completely focused on “getting things done” during their time with us. Whether it was building a chicken coop, painting the dorm rooms, or fixing a borehole, many missions teams spent the few days they were with us doing, doing, doing. And most of the time, the doing was manual labor or unspecialized work.

I was thrilled they wanted to help us, but I always wondered about the particular activities they chose. In Kenya, for example, we have rampant unemployment, and there is literally an endless supply of Kenyans who would do such menial labor for very little money. If a missionary is going to spend so much money to fly and visit us, shouldn’t they be doing work that only they can do?

Again and again, I found that the missionaries I most connected with were those who realized this fact. They saw that the thousands of dollars they had spent to come visit us could be best used in building relationships, both with the students in our orphanage and with the elders as well, not in painting, building, or manual labor that Kenyans could do.

It was in these relationships—when I learned about the wider world, got to practice my English, and built some key connections that would last a lifetime—that I saw the real benefit to having short-term missionaries come to the orphanage.

If there is one thing I could tell short-term missionaries, it would be this: focus less on “helping,” and more on cross-cultural exchange, and becoming friends.

2. Don’t try to get too close too fast.

I’m still a teenager, so I can’t speak with the authority of a psychologist on this, but from what I have read about orphaned and vulnerable children who grow up in situations similar to mine, I know that there are problems with attachment that come when you’re raised like I was.

Try to remember that the trip isn’t over when you get back home.

Although I loved seeing missionaries get close quickly with many of the kids at the orphanage, I sometimes worried about the younger, more emotionally vulnerable children. There were many young girls and boys at my home who would latch on quickly to a missionary who was only there for a few days—holding her hand and not letting her out of their sight for 72 hours. And then they’d be devastated when she inevitably left.

I want short-term missionaries to show love and care, but it’s important to be aware of this difficult reality and to proceed carefully, knowing that you—the missionary—are the adult in the situation. Kids are particularly vulnerable to short-term visitors, and they often don’t understand the reality of your life back at home and why you really have to leave after a few days. It may not be fair to you that a kid is disappointed when you only stay a week (which is a long time off work for you!), but as I saw again and again, many of my peers just didn’t understand the concept of traveling so far for such a short time. These visits can be good, but proceed with caution.

3. Learn what the partner needs.

One day I was coming back from running practice, and the bell in the dining hall rang, meaning that all 170 children at my orphanage were supposed to gather together into the central courtyard. When we did, we came face-to-face with 20 smiling mzungus.

After one of our elders introduced the group, she said that the mzungus had a presentation for us. A middle-aged American woman with a bottle of hand sanitizer strapped to her waist gave a 15-minute talk about how to brush your teeth. Then she passed out toothbrushes.

We couldn’t stop laughing. Another white person who thinks we don’t know how to brush our teeth!

As we filed into the dining hall afterwards, we couldn’t stop laughing. “Another mzungu who thinks we don’t know how to brush our teeth!” We added the new toothbrushes to our stockpile. We had dozens, of course, from all the other white people who had come through that year apparently concerned primarily about our teeth.

The lesson here is that understanding what a partner needs is essential if you’re trying to offer valuable support. In this case, the group was at our orphanage for only a few hours, and they assumed that in that short time it made the most sense to focus on tooth brushing. They were wrong. Ask, ask, and ask again.

4. Don’t forget the money.

People don’t like to talk about money, but when it comes to orphanages that constantly struggle financially, we have to. Of the many problems related to short-term missions that I saw play out again and again, problems with money and a lack thereof topped the list. Here’s a classic example:

After months of coordination between the orphanage and a U.S. church, a group of 10 comes from the U.S. and stays for four nights in some extra dormitory rooms. The orphanage van (the only vehicle) goes on an 8-hour round-trip journey to pick them up at the airport, and another 8-hour trip to drop them off at the end of their stay.

They bring with them a dozen bags of donated clothes and books. During their time at the orphanage, they are served special meals with things we kids don’t get to eat—meat, fresh vegetables, milk, and sugary treats. During their stay, the three full-time staff at the orphanage are on-call the entire time, helping with the constant questions and issues that always come up when people travel to an unknown (and, to them, primitive) place. The orphanage takes the group on frequent rides to local shopping centers, tourist places, hospitals, and the like every day. When the group departs, they may leave a donation of $2,000.

From the church’s perspective, they have fundraised incredibly hard and already spent more than $30,000 to bring a group of 10 to Kenya. For them it seems reasonable to make a donation of $2,000. The orphanage, in contrast, feels exhausted, used, and frustrated. That $2,000, even in Kenya, is not a lot of money to pay for all of the orphanage’s expenses and staff time. Three years later, the orphanage hears from the group again, saying they had such a great time, they want to make another trip.

There are variations on this story. Sometimes the group leaves no money at all. Sometimes the orphanage never hears from the group again. Sometimes the group promises a large donation or offering upon returning home and showing their photos and videos to the congregation, but it never materializes. And sometimes, of course, a church becomes a long-term partner. But long-term partnerships are the exception.

Year after year, the cycle continues. The orphanage accepts short-term missionaries because it is always hoping for that long-term partner who can really help. In the interim, though, they are using up resources that should be going to the children on an endless stream of visitors.

If you’re a church considering a short-term missions trip, please think about the implications of the time and resources the orphanage will spend on you.

5. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

What a missionary does once he or she goes home is often far more important than what happens at the site. Following up is everything.

When I talk about some of the great relationships I built with short-term missionaries over the years, I know that the only reason those relationships worked was because the missionary followed up. As an orphan, I didn’t have money for a stamp to send a letter (and Internet access, both then and now, is unusual in many children’s homes in Kenya). But if a person I met wrote me, we could develop a friendship. Some of my greatest mentors and friends to this day are people who first came for just a few short days to my orphanage. On the larger scale, follow up is the only way that the orphanage and the church can truly build a mutually beneficial long-term partnership.

Ultimately, try to remember that the trip isn’t over when you get back home.

In the years since I left the orphanage and began to have experiences of my own helping others, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to extend help and how difficult it can be. Aside from my year spent on a service project in Ecuador, I’ve also now taken part in several short-term volunteer experiences with international missionaries visiting orphanages and nonprofits in Kenya. In all of these experiences, I’ve served as a bridge, the rare person who knows both sides, and who tries to provide advice on how each side can better understand the other. I’m glad that the missions field has changed to emphasize understanding on-the-ground partners, but there is still much more work to do.

I believe the core of the issue has to do with better communication between missions groups and partner sites, in hopes that we can bridge the vastly different cultural and financial expectations and assumptions that each group has.

By working closer, we can help one another.

Claire Diaz-Ortiz is Twitter’s manager for social innovation and coauthor of Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption (Revell, 2014). Claire is the cofounder of Hope Runs, a nonprofit organization operating in AIDS orphanages in Kenya.

Samuel Ikua Gachagua was born in rural Kenya in 1992. After losing his parents at a young age, he struggled to survive until he was placed in an orphanage in Nyeri, Kenya. In 2009, he received a full-ride scholarship to Maine Central Institute, granting him a rare U.S. visa and the chance to begin his sophomore year of high school under the guardianship of Claire Diaz-Ortiz. After graduating from high school, he spent a year serving in Ecuador as a fellow for Global Citizen Year. He is an up-and-coming motivational speaker.

Apr 21

Highs & Lows of Preaching / Pastoring

Highs & Lows of Preaching / Pastoring

The other day I had an opportunity to be a very lengthy writing from Pastor Joe McKeever.

He’s an generously wise Pastor with years of experience.  In this writing, someone asked him a question and he provided the response.  I’ve provided the question and his answer below.

I (as I’m sure most preachers and pastors can) could identity spot on with his answer.

I hope it provides some perspective for you and some encouragement for you…depending on which seat you’re in.

PastorWhy does my pastor seem detached from the joys of our wedding or the sorrows of our funeral?

I’ll tell you one story from my ministry. One Saturday afternoon many years ago, at one o’clock, we held the funeral for Susan Edmondson at the United Methodist Church down the street because our sanctuary (First Baptist) was decorated for a wedding that would be held two hours later. Susan had grown up in our church, was a popular and well-loved young woman, the youngest child of her older parents, and had been the victim of a bizarre accident. Working in an art store in New York City, that day she had moved a huge piece of art—a heavy column or something—by “walking” it back and forth. As she turned and walked away, it fell on her, crushing her skull. She never knew what hit her. We were all devastated.

The church was packed out with heartbroken friends and family. I recall none of the details of the funeral, but will never forget the anguish I felt trying to be the family’s pastor that day.

Then, a short time after that funeral, we gathered in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church to unite Nathan Wright and Susie John in marriage. We did everything we could to rejoice with them.

It was one of the hardest afternoons I’ve ever known. When it was over, I went home and had trouble sleeping. The next morning, Sunday, I was expected to get up and function as usual, preaching two morning services and one that night. But my heart had been ripped out.

I knew then why some people turn to liquor or drugs. They have to have some relief.

A pastor does this a few times and learns to protect himself by not entering so deeply into the pain or rising so high with the joys.

Hold her in the road. Steady as she goes. It’s what a pastor does.

Apr 20

I’ll Cherish It!

I’ll Cherish It!

Today is Easter!

The big-ness of this day can be likened to the big-ness of the Superbowl, Master’s (golf), National Championship Games…yet MUCH bigger! There is only ONE other day that has as much significance for the believer than Easter, which represents Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death.  That other day is Christmas, which represents His physical birth.

Today, as I’ve worshipped, enjoyed my Pastor’s preaching, enjoyed the music team’s songs, and fellowshipped with other believers, I couldn’t help but pause and really understand how BIG (it’s REALLY BIG!) the cross is and what it REALLY means.

Holy crossThere’s a hymn that says, “I’ll cherish the old rugged cross…”

Without breaking down the entire hymn right now, that one line was on repeat in my mind today.

That one line created a bag of emotions for me today.

I was shaken – The cross literally represents death AND life. Simply Put – Without his death, I am DEAD! With his life, I am ALIVE. All of the wrong that I’ve done, did, and may do – has a penalty and cost associated with it.  And I’ll be totally honest – I’m not good enough, rich enough, or smart enough…to pay for it. Without the cross, I am spiritually emotionally, mentally, and ultimately, physically dead with no hope.  Jesus’ death represents the opportunity for FULL LIFE for me. Jesus’ death paid for my sins! This shakes me!  It literally puts a lump in my throat…because He didn’t have to! He chose to…but didn’t have to!


I was humbled – I know some people overlook it, but I am literally humbled at how much God could love us that He would send His only son to die for me. I love my sons, but I am not really convinced that I’d over them for the sins of others. This epiphany is a “mouth-dropping” reality for me.  It may sound stupid, but he could have only made this love available to a select group of people or a certain group that did certain things, but God didn’t do that! He made it available to anyone who wants it and embraces it.

I was a little angered – The pull of today’s culture and society is that the cross is simply a piece of jewelry.  I know that many people offer much more respect for less significant things.  People honor and worship their cars, clothes, houses, sports paraphenalia, greek-letters, and money more than we really honor the cross.

I’m sure you wonder how I could make such a big reaching statement.  When we look at the kind of disrespect and disregard that happens in the presence of the cross, let’s me know how little we recognize — cherish – the cross’ impact. When we understand the BIG-NESS of the Cross, we probably wouldn’t disrespect God’s children with it on…or wouldn’t degrade ourselves with it on…or wouldn’t dishonor God’s purpose in our lives with it on. Candidly, we wouldn’t live our lives in our own pursuits with the cross on us as jewelry or tattoo or clothing…

I’ve been guilty of it too!  I was busy trying to find the perfect piece of jewelry and would overlook the perfect sacrifice that Jesus offered – by offering His life.

I’m not sure about you – but even beyond Easter today – I will CHERISH the cross.

I will honor Jesus’ death – but live in His resurrection!

I will show appreciation for His sacrifice – but will die to my own agenda!

I will pause to pray for those who may not understand the cross’ significance – while remaining mindful that my own lifestyle reflects its work.

Believe it, understand it, Reflect on it, Honor it…bottom line…let’s Cherish the cross.

Happy Easter!



Jan 20

What Award Would You Win?

What Award Would You Win?

Happy New Year!

I cannot believe that we are already at the end of January of the New Year!  Not only did 2013 run right out, but it seems that 2014 is moving at breakneck speeds as well.

Nonetheless, 2013 was a great year in which a great deal of progress in my personal and professional life was made.  I’ll share more about it during the year.

2014 started in a great way!

  • This year, each person in our church has been challenged to pick a one word theme that would characterize their life.  Based on Psalm 45: 1, what would your theme for this year be?
  • My wife and I had an opportunity to experience one of the most exciting college football games in historyIN PERSON! I have NO WORDS to really describe it.  It didn’t hurt that we are STRONG Florida State Seminole Fans (and Alumni!)
  • I’ve expanded my bucket list a little bit. My bucket list excites me, especially when I get to check things off the lists!
  • Have you finished writing your goals for 2014 yet?  I started writing mine at the end of November 2013 and have finished most of them, but have to admit to you, I’m still working on them. (I’m not sure – is this a good thing or a bad thing…?)
  • I’ve already experienced 5 deaths that either I knew personally or a family member of someone who I know well.  Death can be VERY sobering!  More than anything, one of them had me in deep reflection during their funeral because I knew his face well but I didn’t know his story well (I’ll have to also admit that I did not know his name well either).  I was amazed to discover all of the great background that this gentleman had with teaching, ministry work, and professional work, and yet our interactions together spoke nothing of this.  I don’t know if he was taking a break from being so busy or attempting to “be humble”, but after being in classes where I’ve taught and he never uttered a word, was a bit sobering (He’d taught Bible for 40 years!).  To be working on ministry initiatives and to find out that he ran a state department that could have run circles around the limited knowledge that we were operating with…was…very humbling! The other lesson that I learned is that as ministry leaders we don’t often know the amazing stories sitting in the pew every week.  I’m really driven by figuring out how to deal with this reality.

awardsToday, I want to challenge you a bit.  I’ve observed this year as the Oscar nominations have been held, the Stellar Awards, and the SAG Awards have been presented.  Couple that with the A) deaths that I’ve been aware of; B) The celebration of Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ birthday, and C) the one word theme challenge that we’ve been issued…the prevailing thought that I’ve considered is this: If there were any awards that you’d be nominated for and win – what would the award be?

Think about that for a moment.  If there were any awards that you’d be nominated for and win – what would the award be?

There are LOADS of awards that you could see on television and in newspapers throughout any given year, but there are many that you’ll never notice promoted.  These are the awards that I think we should really via for.

What about being: Most Dinners At Home With Family, Most Consistent Health Eating for 2014, Most Consistent Christian Award, Award for the Longest Running Prayer With God, Consistent Character Crystal Ball…

These seem a bit corny and even odd, but you get the point!  The most important things in life may never even have an award associated with them.  They may never be celebrated, commemorated, and highlighted.  There may never be a day named for it, a national holiday set aside, or even any newspaper articles of it.

But it is what matters.  I’m interested in being the BEST daddy in the world!  I’m interested in being the BEST husband in the world.  I’m interested in making God smile!  I’m interested in living out my life purpose and divine assignment every day!  I’m interested in growing my gifts in a way that make people shake their heads at what God would do in me and through me.  I’m interested in making a great name!  I’m interested in having enough to live on that I can share it with the world!  I’m interested in eternalizing the voice that God has given me.  And I’m sure that my list is no different than yours…

But what are we going to do about it?  Are we moving everyday towards this reality? I think if you do your part, you may never be formally handed this award that you were striving for, but you’ll truly be declared the winner.  You’ll be among those present and accounted for when the list of great ___________ (whatever it is that you are striving for…).

I hope that your fire is lit SO strong that it motivates you to wake up in the morning with a smile on your face, purpose on your mind, The Holy Spirit guiding you, your work pushing you, and your legacy encouraging you.  Let’s go…2014 isn’t waiting on us. Be Inspired!