This is the first in a series of posts. I’ll be interviewing people associated with IMB, whether current field workers, Richmond leaders, or people recently departed from the organization. For the most part, I will not divulge the names or locations of these folks. Many of them work in difficult spots and eschew the spotlight as a result. I’ll start frivolously and move right into the questions.
Today’s guest is an adult MK (missionary kid) who grew up in Ecuador. I found our guest, Jim Shortz, at a florist shop purchasing roses while eating potatoes.
Ecuador exports millions of roses annually to the US. One estimate is that on Valentine’s Day at least 75% of the roses received were Ecuadorian. As well, Ecuadorians eat their weight in locally grown potatoes that come in all sorts of species. The neighboring nation of Peru is the birthplace of the potato, so it’s understandable.
It was wittier when I wrote it.
You are an MK born on the field, raised on the field, educated on the field. Your view of Christians, the church, and ministry were formed “out there” and not in the US. Your favorite places, favorite foods, and your family are all still on the field. Now that you’ve graduated from college and have entered the workforce, what keeps you in the US?
What keeps me in the US? I don’t know really. I often wish I were elsewhere. Probably the biggest reason I am still stateside is the difficulty of finding a job overseas. My heart is definitely in South America.
My Bachelor’s degree is in International Studies, and I am currently pursuing a MA in linguistics. I do hope eventually to get a job overseas, possibly with the US State Department. I have applied for jobs overseas, but so far have not gotten any.
What keeps you from going into missions or the pastorate among Spanish-speakers in the US? Would that not satisfy your desires?
It’s funny you bring up Spanish-speakers. About six months ago I became involved in a Hispanic church, and it does help some. I realized how much more I prefer to worship in Spanish. I also enjoy the overall format of the service (a little more laid back when it comes to how long the service lasts) and being around Spanish speakers. It’s also nice to have more familiar foods when there is a potluck or something at church. In fact, I am going to be helping my new church start reaching out to international students at my university, especially those who have recently come from Latin America.
But I do not see myself going into missions or the pastorate. I do not feel called to that kind of work. I believe that while God does use professional Christians (pastors, ministers, missionaries, etc), His kingdom also needs Christian professionals; that is, doctors, lawyers, business people, engineers, politicians, professionals, who are Christian. Right now I believe that is my calling, and I feel that I am in the US to prepare myself to be an effective world changer back home when God is ready.**
**Observe that Jim is in the US, but is preparing to go “back home:” Ecuador or someplace like it.
Without implying arrogance or a know-it-all attitude on your part, do you find that churches, para-church ministries, and SBC entities welcome your involvement and use your unique gifts well? Or do they sort of set you aside because your views are so different from theirs?
Growing up involved in cross cultural ministry can leave an MK feeling like when it comes to ministry they have “been there, done that.” And the reality is that while MKs often have more experience than most people their age, and are uniquely prepared to reach out cross culturally, most churches and Christian organizations don’t quite know what to do with us.
While we may be familiar with the Calvinist/Arminian debate and have experienced being actively involved in hands-on ministry, we also have spiritual needs, and need to be challenged and encouraged to grow in our faith. Because we grew up hearing the Bible, it can be hard for us to look at it with fresh eyes, instead of half-listening and quoting the same answers we heard when we were four. This can leave MKs with a very superficial, pharisee-like faith.
Churches tend to make one of two mistakes with MKs: They either give them too much responsibility, or put them with their “peers” in a Sunday School class or Bible study that will bore them. MKs may know a lot, but still need discipleship.
For example: when I was a sophomore in college, I was asked if I would consider being a youth pastor at a nearby church. It was assumed, due to my parent’s identity, that I would be an ideal candidate. Never-mind that I wasn’t called, nor was I likely mature enough.
Thankfully, I have mostly been spared from stagnating in groups that didn’t push me to grow. God opened the door for me to be involved with leading Bible studies on campus through InterVarsity, and also placed me in a weekly “life group” of Christians from around the world who encouraged, challenged and built me up.
Do you wish you could raise your future kids in the same churches in which you were raised, or are you comfortable with having them grow up in the SBC?
I definitely hope to raise my kids outside the US, and give them an experience comparable to mine.
I don’t want to put down the SBC, it is a great organization, and does a lot of great things. If at any point my family is in the US, odds are that we will be involved in the SBC. However, having grown up seeing so much of the world and having the appreciation that I do for the bigger picture, I would not want to deprive my own children of that same perspective.
When you think of Latin American churches from back home, what attitude, methodology, or mindset do they have that you think SBC churches would benefit from emulating?
Most churches in Latin America are very young. You do not find generations of being Baptist, and the faith is much younger, more vibrant and less bound by tradition. I do not know how to translate that into something that the SBC could easily emulate. There is a lot of cultural baggage in the North American church that I don’t know how to get rid of.
For example, one thing I love is the way worship is done in Latin America. It embraces the attitude of celebrating first of all who God is, and secondly that we are a special community. The music is more joyful than what you typically find in a SBC church, more energetic. When I have tried to express this to some North Americans, they have dismissed Latin American worship as “emotion and hype without substance” to which I counter that God gave us emotions, and we should use them to honor Him.
However, this is just one example, please do not think that the only thing the SBC needs to change is their worship style. It is a much broader issue.
Southern Baptists, in their zeal for being faithful to God, have in some ways become legalistic and inflexible in ways that make it hard for them to be a welcoming place for non-Christians. I am not talking about doctrinal issues, I am talking about things like expecting people “wear their sunday best” or choosing to use the King James Bible, or other traditions not based on scripture, that make it hard for non-Christians to make it through a church service without being totally alienated.
And we’ll close with…
In my experience, SBC groups love MKs and want to get them involved, but don’t know how to relate to us. They are either in awe of our parents, or don’t see the need to do anything different with us than with kids who lived all their lives stateside. Each MK is unique. We each have our own story. Get to know us and our stories, and see where we fit into what God is doing in your part of the world. You will probably be surprised.