After more than 16 years working and living among the poor cross-culturally, I've realized that life here is like a circus. Not so much a circus of beauty and excellence - with professionals performing inspiring acts of bravery...
But more often a comically tragic circus of good intentions - with a bunch of clowns running around in circles tooting horns ;)
Frankly, we see the best and the worst of human action out here in the Non-Western world. And if I'm honest, I've been part of both sides - I've been used by God AND I've been a clown tripping over my overly large red clown shoes.
When I look back on certain projects and interactions, I cringe, "What, oh dear Lord, WHAT was I thinking???"
Along the way, I made mistakes. But I have also made huge strides forward by learning from the mistakes of others.
In fact, reading has been a massive part of my journey towards understanding.
I may not have reached the final destination yet, but I can help point you towards a few signposts along the way. Seriously, save yourself a LOT of trouble and learn from my mistakes and the screw-ups of others. It's the second best way to learn (right after massive humiliation in front of a large crowd)!
So, for your reading pleasure (and discomfort) here are 7 new books that should be on your reading list if you are engaged in overseas missions, aid and development or cross-cultural service of any kind. I have recommended these books to dozens of people. Now, I've compiled them together in one list so you can jump on board the learning revolution too.
Here are some of the criteria I used to select these books:
- They are new. Old books are awesome. Especially missionary biographies. But the world is changing and we need new paradigms and insights too. These books are all pretty new (out in the last couple of years).
- They are written by practitioners. Some teach but never do. Some do but never teach. A few are qualified to do both. These books are written by people who have years of firsthand experience.
- They question the status quo. Finally, each book contains profound and important ideas about cross-cultural missions and service that you won't find in mainstream Christian books.
So, without any further delay. Here they are. Your Top 7...
1. We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary's Guide to Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency by Jean Johnson
Jean Johnson is a badass missionary who spent 16 years church planting in Cambodia and made a lot of subtle mistakes that she didn't realize until later. This is my favorite book of 2016 because she challenges almost every approach that missionaries take in their church-planting and development projects. She argues that the day is long overdue for us to STOP throwing money and resources around and START using strategies that local people will be able to replicate. I've been in this game for a long time, but there was a lot of challenge for me in these pages. Get it. Read it. Live it.
2. Overturning Tables: freeing missions from the Christian Industrial Complex by Scott Bessenecker
Today's mission agencies and Non-Profits look more like corporations than ever before. In Overturning Tables, Scott shows why this is actually a MAJOR problem and argues that the mission of the Church is being held back by the business model 99% of us use without even recognizing it. Scott shares a bunch of contemporary and historical examples to demonstrate his point - that the mission of God reaches well beyond the grasp of the free market, and that if we are willing to reach as well, we will see God do amazing things. A challenging read.
3. Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness in a Broken World by Craig Greenfield
My own book came out a couple of weeks ago, and already it's stirring hearts and minds and making people feel uncomfortable - in a good way. What can I say - this book contains the hard-learnt lessons of life on the margins. These principles are interwoven with the crazy story of our years of experimentation as a family living among the poor in Cambodian slums and the Canadian inner city. You won't even notice that you are learning! Go ahead and get this book. ASAP.
4. Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan
In this book, Kent shares practices he has learned from his work in Haiti and the U.S. that will encourage and help you to keep making a difference in the face of the world's challenging issues. All Christians are called to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly in the world. But we need to get our heart and posture right or we risk screwing it all up. Slow Kingdom Coming contains some deep truths that will guide and strengthen you on this journey.
5. A Smoldering Wick by Gena Thomas
This is actually the book I wanted to write when I set out to pen Subversive Jesus. It's a blistering critique of Western charity and short-term missions, interwoven with the framework for a more hopeful "justice-oriented" way forward. Grounded in her own experience as a missionary in Mexico, Gena Thomas has written a book chock-full of tips and tools, theological insights and practical plans so you and your church can do mission better. It's not out yet (I read a review copy) - but you can pre-order it.
6. The Great Chasm: How to Stop Our Wealth from Separating Us from the Poor and God by Derek Engdahl
Engdahl's experience of journeying with the poor over the past 17 years has given him some deep insights into how wealth becomes a massive blind-spot for Western Christians. In this book, he takes us through part of the Gospel of Luke to show that how we relate to the poor and how we choose to use our wealth are fundamental discipleship questions. I'm personally convinced that as Western Christians, unless we confront and understand our own privilege, we cannot understand poverty. An important read.
7. Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield
I haven't had a chance to read this yet because it's not out until August, but I have been an avid reader of D.L. Mayfield's writing and painfully truthful insights for a while. Here's the synopsis: "From childhood, D.L. Mayfield longed to be a missionary, so she was thrilled when the opportunity arose to work with a group of Somali Bantu refugees in Portland. As the days, months, and years went by, her hopeful enthusiasm began to wear off, her faith became challenged, and the real work of learning to love and serve her neighbors grew harder, deeper, and more complex." Pre-order this book. It looks good!
Bonus: grab a free copy of Urban Halo: a story of hope for orphans of the poor by Craig Greenfield
As a special bonus, subscribe to my monthly updates and you will have be able to download a free copy of my first book, The Urban Halo. This is the story of our first 7 years living in Cambodian slums and developing community-based care for hundreds of orphaned children. This book has influenced hundreds of orphan ministries around the world. In particular, if you have ANYTHING to do with orphanages, promise me you will read this book.