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Restoration in Madagascar

Deforestation is a constant threat to the environment and the people living in it. The world loses about 8.3 million hectares per year of forest, often spurred by increasing poverty in developing countries like Madagascar. In 2015, we shared how Eden Projects doesn’t just replant the forests, but also helps Malagasy families combat poverty. Today, stories of hope continue and the forest is growing!

Eden Reforestation Projects is an organization that started in Ethiopia in 2004. Dr. Stephen Fitch understood the “third world culture” and the cycle of poverty. “Many of the villagers, who had been raised over many generations in these areas, were now being threatened with relocation to refugee camps following radical deforestation. Eden Projects was launched in order to attempt to reverse environmental devastation that negatively impacted families and local culture.”

Madagascar is the largest of the reforestation projects in Eden, but the people see the forest as a resource to use, not as one to protect. In Madagascar, charcoal is more desirable than firewood and more available than gas.

Continue reading…

In The Wake of Kon Tiki

Many pioneers in different fields exist in the pages of history, like Thor Heyerdahl. He believed South America populated Polynesia and that the seas were an avenue of communication, not barriers as historians believed. Thor noticed similar plants such as the sweet potato, the movement of the trade winds and breakers in the Pacific Ocean, and learned about a demigod named Tiki. Tiki “… brought his ancestors to the island from the big country beyond the eastern horizon. (from here)Thor’s story encouraged me. As a pioneer in a new field, I related to so many aspects of his story.

I first heard about Kon Tiki on Netflix in the movie directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (2012). Thor had to raise the support to build the raft and fund the project to prove a theory his colleagues said was impossible.

“‘Your mother and father will be very grieved when they hear of your death,’ one skeptical diplomat told Heyerdahl when hearing of his plan. Promising ‘nothing but a free trip to Peru and the South Sea islands and back… ‘”

https://www.history.com/news/thor-heyerdahls-kon-tiki-voyage

The movie portrays the journey to support as an emotional roller-coaster filled with rejection and hope. No one believed him. Thor didn’t even know how to swim or have any sailing experience. With the raft finished and ready to go, Thor stood on it, waving at the crowd with his five-man crew. The camera focused on his face. His eyes warily fell away from the cheering crowds on shore to the gap between his raft and the cement pier where the ocean lapped against the sides. It was as if to say, “Do I have confidence in my theory?”

It reminded me of a quote I found on Facebook by Dwight L. Moody,

“Moses spent forty years thinking he was a somebody; forty years learning he was nobody; and forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.”

Thor got his raft funded. I am still trying to build this raft. I am approaching people, churches, and businesses, and asking them to join me in changing our approach to missions by connecting the churches with the missionary organization to reach the unreached, the unloved, and the unchurched through social media and face-to-face. I am a nobody, but God can do much with a nobody like me. The concern most church communicators have is in marketing their church online.

We need to change our thinking from marketing to making disciples. If a congregation is trained on social media by the church and the missionary organization, marketing will happen on its own. While we need to focus on algorithms and best practices on social media, our people can focus on making meaningful connections. Thor made it to his destination. His journey inspired others to new pioneering fields. The journey to his destination included much joy and discovery as well as danger and doubt. In the wake of Kon Tiki, I, too, struggle.

From the beginning, support raising hasn’t been traditional — everyone in technology shares in this struggle. Even an online friend mentioned how little of us digital workers there are in the world using this communication tool. Often, we create new apps or try to intentionally or unintentionally compete with other like products.

I am not after creating a new app or a discipleship product. People are accustomed to hanging out in different places on social media. Churches already have websites and a presence, but we’ve become passive on Sunday. As a church congregation, we expect the community and the world to walk into our building, instead of making an effort to meet them where they are online and in the face-to-face. That adds an extra wrinkle to my support raising.

The church is part of my vision; not the leadership. Leaders in our churches have enough to do and are often overwhelmed, but we need them to equip and guide us. Unreached people groups in North America are within a stone’s throw of a church member.

In the wake of Kon Tiki, I dream of uniting the church with the missionary organization to reach different people groups in their community and all over the world through social media, apps, and their preferred discipleship programs. Thor made it to Polynesia. I won’t see this dream finished. I am starting it so other generations behind me can take up the reins when I am gone.

The Man With The Bullhorn

A man stood on the corner, shouting into his bullhorn, “Repent, or you will go to hell!” Social Media has become the bullhorn–A place rife with opinions. What if instead, we asked questions?

Rather than tell people how to think, walk with them as they think. 1 Peter 5:2-3 talks about shepherding. The commentary by David Guzik speaks of pastors.

“Shepherds should not do their job as lords, because the sheep do not belong to them. The sheep are entrusted to them. Instead, shepherds are to serve by being examples, not dictators. (emphasis mine)” (from here)

Every person on social becomes a shepherd; an example people follow whether they want that role or not. What we post both visually and literally shares our character with others. Everything from how often we check in to a church, to what we are studying in the Bible, to how we interact with others gives a visual story of our life to others. If we become the man with the bullhorn, we will only get people who agree with us and alienate the rest of them. If we alienate others, we do not have any connection with them.

Seek to honor others and slow down in building those friendships. A former pastor friend once said, “Salvation is a supernatural miracle.” It won’t happen overnight.

  • First, get to know your friends, what they post, what they are thrilled with, and how they struggle.
  • Converse with them often.
  • Most importantly, seek to meet them for coffee where the Spirit leads. Let the online friendship complement the face-to-face one.
  • Seek friendship because you care, and remain friends with them even if they choose not to become a believer. Always be authentic in all your friendships.

As to the man with the bullhorn, I only saw him once or twice. Most people avoided him. Others, like me, stared because it was so freakish. Things could have been different had he just talked to people.

Good Reads:

5 Reminders on Social Media

Seth Godin wrote in The never-ending ratchet of conspicuous consumption, “The only way to do well is to refuse to play.” He said this towards the end of the blog about consumerism and social media. He also said, “Earning trust outperforms earning envy.” As a social media person, creating content and doing organic engagement on WorldVenture’s social media is about creating trust and posting meaningfully. But, what about you–the person who isn’t a marketer who wants to use their personal social media for outreach and meaningful engagement?

You don’t have to play the game.

Trends are wonderful things for pages and groups, but personal social media should remain personal, original, and meaningful. Here are five ways to engage and create without exhausting yourself. You are not me. Be you.

  • Rest and read. Creativity needs rest. It needs new inspiration. Go to an art museum and learn about artists. Take up photography. Do some gardening. Quilt. Take a walk. Nap. Buy a book on Amazon that is different and challenges your thinking.
  • Budget your time on social media. Do a short social media fast (no more than a day or two). Watch a movie without picking up your phone. Read a chapter without checking Facebook. Nap with your notifications turned off.
  • Post Bible Verses. When using Adobe Spark or Canva, create Bible verses from images you have created or from copyright-free image sites, like Pixabay.com. This is a healthy break when you’ve run out of things to talk about online.
  • Interact more than post. If we get too caught up in the monster of creating original content, we can miss the important conversations. Don’t worry if you have nothing to post. Instead, find someone to interact with online. Maybe you can invite them to meet you for coffee? Post only when you feel led, not because you have to post something. Idea: Share another person’s post with a meaningful response on your personal social media.
  • Use Facebook Live to take a walk and invite others to walk with you virtually. Have a conversation with them.

When churches have digital teams who use their personal social media to reach out to their community and the world, a person on the team can feel overwhelmed, especially when they are not a marketer. As a social media person, I feel the pressure, but I tap into the mass amount of information that is within WorldVenture for inspiration and take regular breaks to keep what I post fresh and new. As Seth Godin says, “The only way to do well is to refuse to play.”

Happy posting, friends!

Talking to People About Jesus

(picture of my dear friend who shares Jesus online every day)

Pastor Steven Roberts (Life Church) said on Facebook, “I get nervous talking to people about Jesus. This truth helps. It’s not about how clever or cool I am. God is already working in their heart and I get to be a part of the process. The only way to mess it up is to say nothing at all.”

I find a nervous pastor comforting. It’s not just me that struggles with sharing my faith. Is it safe to assume that’s why most people find it easier to share a meme about Jesus or a bit of Bible verse instead of engaging online or face-to-face with the deeper questions? Is that like tossing a handful of seeds out into a field and hoping they land in the prepared soil? Pride and fear are emotions I feel when I share my faith.

What if I don’t have all the answers? What if I fail? What if I let them down? Pride causes me to want to find the answers, to engage in debate instead of discussion, to be right. Voices From The Field: Conversations with Our Global Family by TJ Macleslie comforts me.

In the chapter titled, Sodnom—Mongolia, the story shares about a Mongolian Christian named, Sodnom. She grew up in Communist Russia as a Buddhist. In this chapter, Sodnom shares her experiences about missionaries. For me, missionaries always seemed like people who had all the answers.

Sodnom disagrees.

 “Missionaries are impatient and try to force the Gospel on us without knowing the history and context of our lives. Missionaries must understand the journey we have to make in order to truly embrace the gospel.” (Location 200)

Sodnom also shares how missionaries impacted her life.

“Wisely they (Jon and Vonnie) didn’t say anything but prayed…I think this is a very important lesson for missionaries to learn. Remember that you are guests in our country and even though you disagree with us, please do not ridicule or judge us for our beliefs. You need to respect our beliefs and traditions. (Location 213). This older couple never told us what to believe; rather they prayed, asking God’s Word to speak into our lives in a way that we could understand. (Location 236)”

She shared, “Our American friends had taken us to God’s Word and allowed it to speak to our lives. (location 247)”

Translating this chapter into my work with social media, I requoted what Sodnom said on Location 259. When you share stuff online, serve online, realize you will be living in a new world. Seek to understand the online world and the people you will interact with. Be sensitive to God and His leading; be sensitive to your new environment. Be prepared to change.

Pastor Steven Roberts words resonate with others, too and he is right when he says, “The only way to mess it up is to say nothing at all.”

Friends, you are not alone in your fear and nervousness or in your grappling with pride. The most important thing I have learned is to let the Holy Spirit do His work. Follow God’s leading.

how to get somewhere

How to Create More Meaning

“Some activities are pleasurable and doing them is inherently rewarding. Others are difficult to do, but pay off with happiness or pleasure in the future. Some other things are important to do, even if you never get much from it. I worry that the news has none of the characteristics that make something worthwhile. It’s not fun, it causes anxiety, it gives you a warped sense of reality, and people who watch it are rarely going to DO anything with the information they get … So why do people engage in it? Its sensational nature makes it feel important when it’s not.”From Here

Recently, our small town landed in the news. Our kids are dying in DUI incidents on the roads, more than one shooting again due to drugs or alcohol, and each day I see whiskey bottles and needles on the sides of streets. “Instead of feeling awful for people in unfortunate circumstances, you can volunteer.” The above article says at the end. The whole article is about creating more meaning.

What the author is not suggesting in Step Away From the 24-Hour News Cycle is ditching the news cycle altogether. Instead, the author challenges the reader to do something. But, what?

The information superhighway can overwhelm us with the needs in the world if we don’t learn to sift through what information we choose to let inside our heart. Instead of focusing on the whole problem, the numbers of nameless people in and out of recovery, the tragedies, wars, and natural disasters, follow this advice—focus on what YOU can do; not what you CAN’T do.

What can you do?

  • Pray for guidance where God would send you and act on it.
  • Use your social media to create genuine friendships. Post updates that not only reflect the kind of Christian you are but allow people to latch on to what you have in common with them (Matthew 5:13; Psalm 14:3; Romans 8:8). Got Questions goes deeper here in being Salt and Light.
  • Because Social Media is a visual storyboard, a person must think visually and literally when conveying meaning. Look at your favorite fictional books, photographers, and painters. Why do certain shows or specific blogs attract you more than others? The common denominator is emotion. If I were to approach someone in the face-to-face and say, “I’m going to do a prayer fast today,” it would come off as ego talking. When you post this online, you are inviting someone into that dialogue and painting a story using graphics and words. Every status and photo is a chapter in your life that you choose to include others in and live as an example through discipling each other.
  • As you build your friendships online, consider meeting that stranger in a public place for coffee during the day. News stories occasionally share the horrors of doing such a thing. We can either be afraid and immobile or be discerning in where and who we meet.
  • Pick a culture and learn about it. Find groups of that culture online and get involved in conversations.

Transforming a community isn’t done by hoping someone else will do it. It takes a deliberate joint effort from a congregation, leadership, and missionaries using all the communication tools in front of us, including face-to-face. The next time you see a news story you are tempted to share, wait.

  • Read the whole article,
  • Google volunteer opportunities in and out of church areas that reach out to that demographic,
  • and share a solution with the story.

Get involved in someone else’s story and be part of the change you’d like to see in your community.

Thoughts? Can I pray with you?

Your Leaders Grow, Too

You know that moment when you lose a tweet from a Christian leader you wished you had saved? Beth Moore posted a tweet saying something to the effect that her tweets from the past do not reflect who she is now. It’s not an exact quote (and don’t ask me to vouch for accuracy as I can’t find her tweet).

I recalled that tweet today when I did a Facebook search. Older posts painfully reminded me of my less than cautious postings. I’m not a Beth Moore, but I am growing. Our leaders are growing, too. Social media is a written and visual record of our lives. It makes sense that online as in face-to-face we say and do things that will be different when we are younger than what we do when we are older. The written and visual record of social media will reflect this. It can be a wonderful record of where we’ve come from to who we are today.

When I Grow Up…

From the WorldVenture Blog Post

In 2015, Megan Murphy started “The Kindness Rock Project.” She left a rock on the beach of Cape Cod with the words “You’ve Got This” painted on it. Facebook rock painting groups began where communities did a grown-up Easter egg-like hunt for hand-painted rocks, leaving pictures with hints on Facebook groups so a family or person could find it and report it to the group. Over the past year or two, I’ve participated in this trend as a form of community outreach for online connections. Last week, my prayers yielded phenomenal results.

Kairi and her mom were hiking in the Dells in Prescott, Arizona when Kairi discovered my painted rock sitting near the Highline Trail. She turned the stone over and saw the contact information Modge-Podged and taped to the back.

The back of the rock contained a QR code, my email, and the instructions, “Please post to the Chino Valley Rock Facebook Group.” The QR code included a link to BibleGateway. Kairi sent me a message through her mom’s email account, saying, “Found your rock. I am 11-years old, and I want to do what you are doing. I want to be a missionary when I grow up.”

Read more by clicking here

Overcoming Pushback

A new blog on WorldVenture’s Website…

“Come back when you have a 4-year degree from a Bible school or seminary,” Four to five mission agencies said in the 1990s to Rob and Lisa Atkins (currently in Bolivia). While students are the focus of most mission’s mobilization, making up a robust 1% of the world’s demographic (Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization; pg. 14), older missionaries (Over-Forty) encounter pushback from friends and relatives in a culture where people are expected to save for a comfortable retirement.

“Occasionally, we hear subtle comments from people that our age concerns them. I also have issues with my left ankle. Most were excited and stated they could so see us doing this type of ministry. Age and health are always underlying concerns.” Neal Sperling was 72-years old and his wife, Sherri was 64 when God called them to the mission field.

A colleague currently serving in Africa mentioned a few obstacles. Some said to him,

  • “You’re brave. And what I mean by that is foolish. I don’t know that I would recommend anyone going at your stage of life. But God be with you.”
  • “I don’t understand why you would sacrifice everything you’ve worked for the past 20-years to give it all away to move to Africa.”
  • We think you are not being very wise. But we love you anyways.”

Read more by clicking here

Still a Mail Chimp Fan

A post popped up in Jenn’s Trends Facebook Group, signaling a change to Mail Chimp. This caused some anxiety, and I’ve observed other changes already. It’s the industry adjusting to the different ways we communicate.

With only a 20% open rate commercially depending upon the business and my observance of a 50% open rate in my lists, postcards make sense. Mail Chimp is offering postcards for less than a dollar each, including the stamp and mailing. They will even find people’s addresses. Spam laws make adding people to Mail Chimp taboo who have not requested it. Instead of opting for Mail Chimp’s postcards, I’ve gone to Vista Print and use a label template to keep my contact lists updated.

Postcards are a great addition though to a missionary’s toolbox. No one opens an envelope. They see what is inside right away. Granted, this also means you cannot print anything confidential on a postcard. My “story postcards” are like Daily Breads meet the missionary update. They both inform and inspire. It is my way of giving my list of people something that is art; something tangible for them to look at to encourage them in their Christian walk and to remind them to pray. So, yea, for Mail Chimp innovation.

Mail Chimp also does,
• Landing pages (for those without a webpage)
• Facebook Ads
• Social Posts
• CRM Marketing

Before my new calling with WorldVenture, a missionary agency, I stopped using Constant Contact because I could only make one list and no free plan existed. Mail Chimp allowed numerous records with many names (up to 2,000). The one change that happened means I cannot make different lists. Instead, I need to utilize more tags and segmenting.

Tags allow me to send an email from the audience landing page to a specific group of tags only. Segmenting will enable me to set up a list that grows according to how I add people to the list or how people sign up. I utilize segmenting to send emails to different people rather than all at once. Currently, I am redoing my Mail Chimp list to put churches on a once per month update and individuals, too, who do not want weekly updates. One list is for people who frequently open my updates. As others open or not open, this list is continuously updated by Mail Chimp through segmenting.

I’ve considered an upgrade in Mail Chimp for a long time to get better templates. The free plan only offers basic templates. The first price tier gives access to all templates, A/B testing, custom branding, and also support. The next step up in the pricing tier adds automation, retargeting ads, custom templates, and advanced audience insights. Their pricing tiers simplify and generously expand on how many contacts you can have per pricing tier. For instance, I am on the free plan which allows 2,000 names (including, thanks to the GDPR laws, those who have unsubscribed).

The pricing tier I considered allows up to 100,000 names. I’ll never get that many names, but at $14.99 a month, it’s affordable. Their competitor, Constant Contact, includes an image library, marketing calendar, etc. At $20.00 a month, Constant Contact only allows up to 500 names. Mail Chimp is still friendly to non-profits in this way, giving a generous audience count. Are the changes coming to Mail Chimp concerning?

My anxiety has diminished somewhat. For my colleagues, I still think Mail Chimp (paid or free) is the best, user-friendly product for what we do.