Saturday, April 22, 2017

Three Days of Ministry

I had a visit today with a local church leader whose had some tough experiences lately.  His wife has been sick for many years, though, thankfully she is feeling more and more like herself.  There’s a church leader that he’s been discipling who had shown a lot of promise but is currently having problems with his family.  We commiserated, laughed and prayed together – it was encouraging.

I always enjoy talking with this friend because he’s been in ministry long enough now that the ebbs and flows of church life don’t seem to rock his boat.  He seems able to keep a good perspective on things whether he’s in the highs or the lows.

This past Easter weekend I was thinking about a formative conversation that Rachel and I had years ago about a theory of “three days of ministry.”  (I checked with her and she can’t remember if we got this from someone else or came up with it together in conversation – so if I’m stealing… ahem, I mean, borrowing… your idea - so sorry).

Now while “three days of ministry” could sound like a short-term mission trip to an exotic location or an exciting conference at a packed stadium, actually it’s a typology that’s been helpful in my life to frame the different kinds of experiences (or days) that one encounters in service to God. 

The original “three days of ministry” that I’m referring to are the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Holy Week.  Good Friday was the day of Jesus’ suffering and death.  Saturday was the day of silence where he was in the tomb. But Easter Sunday was when Jesus burst through in glory and was revealed as our Resurrected Lord.

Jesus’ ministry was capped off by these three pivotal days. And if we spent some time reflecting on his three years of earthly ministry, we could use this Friday-Saturday-Sunday typology to categorize his ministry experiences in this way.  Christ’s earthly ministry was marked by times of suffering, silence and splendor.    

That typology fits with Christ’s ministry as well as the three days in a missionary's life (really any minister’s life).  “Fridays” are the times of suffering when everything seems to be going against you and you may experience abandonment.  “Saturdays” are when nothing seems to be happening - it’s a time of waiting and watching and being faithful.  But “Sundays” are when God’s resurrection power is on display, things are happening, lives are being dramatically changed and everything seems to be clicking. 
Missionaries need to be prepared to handle all three of these days.  In the chart below I show what I think are the questions and temptations that go with our experience of these three ministry days.
Day
Experience
Appropriate Question(s)
Temptation
“Friday”
Suffering
“Why is this happening? What can I learn from it?”
Despair – “God has abandoned me! I’m all alone!”
“Saturday”
Silence
“What is happening under the surface?”
Give up - “This is pointless, why should I persevere?”
“Sunday”
Splendor
“Praise God! How can I glorify God in this?”
Pride – “These good things are happening because of me – they are to my credit!”

One thing that I’ve noticed over the last 14 years living cross-culturally is that it seems that there are a lot more “Saturdays” in ministry than “Fridays” or “Sundays”!  The “Fridays” of deep suffering are thankfully rare, while the “Sundays” of splendor are painfully rare, but we’ve been incredibly aware of how so, so, so, many “Saturdays” there are.  While the temptations of despair and pride have certainly been present, the real challenge is holding on to perseverance.  Maybe that’s why, as Frank Viola notes, “at the top of Paul’s list of apostolic qualifications is the hallmark of spiritual power: perseverance” (2009, 166).

I hope this “three days of ministry” typology is helpful to you.  It has been a blessing to me and helped me interpret my own story here in Mozambique through the lens of Christ’s story.

May we be ministers who hold fast to God through all the Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of ministry!   May we develop Christian servants among the Makua-Metto who faithfully and gracefully encounter every experience of suffering, silence and splendor!

Grace and Peace,

Alan  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Newsletter April 2017



Greetings from South Africa!  Alan and I made a surprise trip to Johannesburg so he could have hernia surgery – though when we got on the plane we still weren’t sure what was wrong.  He had begun to experience increasing pain several weeks before, but the symptoms were confusing and his hernias couldn’t be officially diagnosed without an ultrasound, which we don’t have in our area, so eventually we were recommended to make the trip down to South Africa.  We have been overwhelmed by the kindness and care from so many people; our teammates have been caring for our girls, so many friends and family stateside have been praying for us and have helped out financially, and our physician friend Dr. Christine Fynes-Clinton and surgeon Dr. Hennie Loots and their staffs here have been amazing – making appointments for us before we even arrived, and working us into their operating schedule with just 24 hours’ notice.  We landed in Johannesburg about 6pm on a Friday night, and by noon the next day we had labs, an ultrasound, and a diagnosis.  And by 830am Monday morning we were on the surgery schedule for Tuesday afternoon.  Alan is now one week out from surgery; the first few days were pretty painful, but now his pain has turned to soreness and is less frequent and he seems much more like himself.  We have tickets for flights home tomorrow, and we can’t wait to hold our girls – we really miss them A LOT!  We are so grateful to have been taken care of by so many people!   



Over the last few months we’ve visited congregations all over the province and it seems like almost every week there are more baptisms.  We praise God for all this growth in the churches, and we pray for depth of maturity and long-term transformation for all these folks who have publicly declared that first step of allegiance to the Kingdom Jesus invites us into.  It has been beautiful in church leadership meetings to hear the Makua-Metto deacons recognize the real responsibility of discipling these young Christians.  


Another big topic that the churches are addressing now is their church registration status, especially with regard to conflicts in the past.  We will say more about this once the details are in place, but this is an important step in solidifying their legal status.  Please pray that they will be able to get all the documentation that they need.  


Over the past few months we have been ramping up plans for this year’s Theology School; “Instituto Teolรณgico de Cabo Delgado” in Portuguese).  Last year, our initial experiment went very well and churches expressed interest in sending students again, and this year our team will offer 15 classes – most courses will be taught in Montepuez, but a few of them will be offered in different districts.  Alan will be teaching classes on the New Testament, Preaching and a class on “The Giants” (the big issues in Makua-Metto culture that hinder the growth of the Kingdom of God), and I will be teaching a Church History course.  We are excited to see how offering more advanced training will bless the church at this stage. 

               

In order to get ready for the Theology School and other activities on our land in Montepuez, these last few months have been another season of team construction.  Jeremy Smith has taken the lead on the building projects, the first of which was a wall around the property with proper gates to aid with security (this just finished last week!).  While Jeremy organized the construction work, Alan was responsible for the kitchen (feeding the 10-25 masons and laborers lunch each day) as well as making sure there was enough water for all the cement mixing.  Now that the wall is done, we will begin construction of two buildings for the Theology School (a classroom/dormitory building and a kitchen/dining area).  Special thanks to Jeremy for working so hard on all of this!



The beginning of the year is the rainy season in northern Mozambique and that means that many of our friends are out in the farms growing the crops that their family will eat throughout the year.  That gives more flexibility in our schedule changes and opened up time this year for curriculum development and construction as well as a chance to connect with other missionaries.  In February, Alan, Chad and Jeremy went to Kenya to participate in a men’s missionary retreat; it was great for them to meet with others serving in Africa and share ideas about ministry.  Then, in March, the ladies on the team (and other fellow missionaries from Cabo Delgado) went to a “Come Before Winter” renewal retreat in Namibia.  I was deeply encouraged by my time with the women there (check out their website here). 

               

Our girls are fabulous (though we know we’re biased!).  We have really missed the girls while we have been in South Africa – it is great to see them on Skype BUT it makes us miss them even more!!!  They are so sweet and kind - all three of them were a big help while Alan was sick and I was in Namibia.  Abby is now officially taller than me and she loves coming to stand beside me to prove it!  Ellie seems to be on the verge of a growth spurt (she lost five teeth within the span of just a couple of weeks!), and Katie is still our snuggle-bug.  It is hard to believe how big they are getting – we are aching to see them tomorrow!



Thanks for checking out what is happening in our part of the world.  We appreciate all the encouragement and support!   


Please pray with us:

  • For depth of transformation for leaders
  • for the churches to disciple new believers and for resolution to the issues surrounding the church’s registration/documentation
  • for a great year for the Theology school
  • for continued healing for Alan

Peace to you,

Rachel and Alan

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Story Warren - Sir Raleigh, Storytelling, and the Sea

"A wonderful painting hangs on the wall of my office. This gift from my lovely wife is a reproduction of Millais’ The Boyhood of Raleigh, and I hope it continues working its way into my heart and imagination.

James K. A. Smith summarizes well the story behind this painting (2016, 92):
'Sir Walter Raleigh, you might recall, was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s intrepid explorers. He established some of the first British colonies in what is now North Carolina. But he also twice set sail in search of the elusive El Dorado. In the painting, Millais imagines just what creates such an adventurer and explorer. His hypothesis? A good storyteller. Raleigh and a young friend sit entranced by a wizened old sailor who is pointing to an immense sea, captivating them with tales of what lies on the other side. The story, on Millais’ interpretation, gives birth to a longing that will govern and direct all of Raleigh’s life.'

As I’ve considered this inspiring work of art, two observations have jumped off the canvas and doggedly refused to leave me alone!"

To read more, please check out the Story Warren post Sir Raleigh, Storytelling, and the Sea.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

There is a Season: Discerning the Rhythms of Mission Work

Before we moved to Mozambique, I served as an intern in a campus ministry at the University of Memphis.  I was in grad school and it was a blessing to get to serve in ministry at the same time under Tim Stafford.  One thing he said that has stuck with me and shaped the way I approach our work even today had to do with appreciating the seasons in campus ministry.  Tim believed that by going with the grain of the school calendar, the campus ministry could encounter students where they were instead of merely where we wanted them to be.  So, we organized our efforts this way: the Fall semester was for evangelism, the Spring semester was for discipleship, and the Summer was for mission.  Makes sense, right?

That way of thinking gave me more appreciation for the way seasons shape the life and ministry of the church.  In Mozambique we have one rainy season where everyone is busy in their farms. If we plan a lot of activities for that time period, we are setting ourselves up for failure – people have to be out in their fields a lot because monkeys and elephants in the bush that will eat their crops!  So, our team tries to fit our ministry with the ebb and flow of life.  Right now it’s the rainy season and we don’t travel as much.  Besides an increased danger of getting our vehicles stuck in the mud (!), we realize that people just aren’t as available.  While we still keep worshiping with the churches and having some scheduled meetings, our team is mostly using this year’s rainy season for construction (building a wall on our property) and for curriculum development and translation.  After the busyness of the farming season (Jan-Apr) is over, we enter a time of evangelism and equipping (May-Dec).

This dynamic is often hard to appreciate for short term workers who have come to Mozambique.  They arrive in Africa and expect big things to happen conveniently during their own short stay.  But what they may not grasp is that they may have come at an inconvenient time.  Western culture is no longer an agrarian society, so we may not naturally think in seasons much anymore.  But this forgetfulness is not only a western phenomenon - we know Mozambican church leaders who forget this dynamic and have caused frustration and discouragement.  Just as there is a proper time to plant and sow in the agrarian calendar, we need to be keen observers of the field God has placed us in to work with the church to discern the activities in their proper season.

Getting in Rhythm with the Rhythm

Bruce Miller’s helpful book Your Church in Rhythm: The Forgotten Dimension of Seasons and Cycles has been a blessing to me as I’ve wrestled with this dynamic in Mozambique.  Honestly, I sometimes feel frustrated at the changes in activity level that happen during different times of the year.  Miller’s counsel has been helpful:
“The Bible calls us to both Sabbath rest and sacrificial service.  God’s people are to stop working at times, and we are to work sacrificially at other times.  We are to set aside time to rest and we are to take risks for God.  We are called to be, at times, both Mary and Martha (see Luke 10:38-42).  We sit at Jesus’ feet to learn and we exercise hospitality by “washing feet” to serve (John 13).  The point is not that rest and work are to be kept in balance, but that they are to be in rhythm over time.  Churches are to fast and to feast, but not at the same time!” (p. 142)
“Consider creating an ‘oscillation graph’ for your yearly cycle.  For each month, circle the number that indicates the level of intensity or renewal from a zero point of average energy expenditure and renewal to a high point of five in either direction with intensity at the top and renewal at the bottom.  When do you most intensely expend energy and when are you most fully renewing?” (p. 148)
“There are times to lead your church full blast and times to drink deeply from the water of life to renew strength for the next battle. Oscillate intensity and renewal in each cycle so you yield a large harvest year after year without wearing out before your time is done.” (p. 160)
While some argue for finding balance in ministry.  Miller argues that balance is not the goal. He says,
“The concept of balance is flawed because balance happens in a frozen moment. Yet you cannot pause life to weigh its balance. Your ministry never stops; it is always moving and changing.  There is no DVR remote that will pause church.” (loc. 347) Instead we should try to discern the proper rhythms. “If you ignore rhythm, you can hurt your church by wasting resources on concerns that don’t fit this time in your church’s life. For instance, if you’re a church planter in the early days it’s not the time to develop policy manuals or refined processes.  Much stress and guilt often come from attempting ministry that does not belong in this stage or season. In contrast, if we employ rhythm strategies, we can materially improve the quality of our ministry by releasing pressure and increasing focus.  Churches that seize unique opportunities in a particular ministry rhythm find they increase their impact by focusing on what is timely.” (loc. 301)
Discerning the Rhythms

Once we have accepted the fact that we need to be in rhythm with the seasonal rhythm, we need to begin to appreciate the bigger picture.  Not only are there seasonal rhythms, there are also other stages or cycles at work in the life of God’s people that effect ministry. “Whereas stages are longer periods in the life span of an organization, seasons are shorter periods lasting a few months to a few years.  Churches live through both organizational life stages and ministry seasons.  For example, a stage might be the early years of planting a church; a season could be a capital campaign.  You will learn to recognize what time it is in your church, and then identify your own stages and seasons.” (loc. 422)

Miller uses two Greek words for time to help us understand what is happening.
“One way to understand the difference between kairos and chronos is to contrast the rhythms of the sea with the rhythms of the sky.  The ocean has patterned but unpredictable, noncyclical rhythms to it.  Sometimes the sea is calm; at other times waves crash onto the beach.  Even with all our modern technology, we still cannot fully predict the sea’s rhythm.  We can be surprised by a tsunami that destroys a coastline or by a wave that knocks us off our feet while we’re wading in the surf.  The sky is different; it has a rhythm to it.  The planets and stars move in cyclical, predictable patterns.  We can look to the sun to know what time of day it is.  The moon tells us what time of the month it is. The lengths of days and nights, tied to the tilt of the earth in relation to the sun, tell us what season it is.  The stars tell us the time of year. We live rhythmically by both following the sky’s patterns, which form our chronos rhythm (cycles), and by riding the sea waves of our Kairos rhythms (seasons).” (p. 20)
I would add that beyond the rhythms of sky (seasons) and sea (church stages), there is also a third dynamic at play.  We need to appreciate what time it is in the life of the sailor/missionary.  The stage that the minister is in will also effect the seafaring as he or she discerns the appropriate place on the boat and how to be appropriately active in raising the sail or allowing other sailors (maybe some that are still learning their craft) to take the lead.  Appreciating all three dimensions, or times, can help us move forward effectively. 

We could switch metaphors here and think about the three hands on a watch. The “hour hand” stands for the time or stage in the life of the church, the “minute hand” is the season of life of the missionary, and the “second hand” is the season of the year currently.

Here are a few questions for missionaries to think through with local ministry partners in order to help accurately “tell time”:
  • Sea / “Hour Hand” - What stage is the church in?
    • What events in the past are currently shaping this community?
    • What potential events are on the horizon for this community?
  • Sailor / “Minute Hand” - What season is the missionary in?
    • What tasks are the minister physically and spiritually prepared for?
    • Are their potential personal transitions that should effect the way ministry tasks should be engaged at this time?
  • Sky / “Second Hand - Are their seasonal factors that inhibit or enhance ministry possibilities?
    • When would people here be most receptive to hearing the gospel? or participate in ministry training?
    • How are people available?  Are there certain times of the day or night that they would be more receptive?
    • Are there parts of the liturgical year that make people more receptive? For example, because of some of the historic Catholic influences in one of the areas we work, people may be more interested in joining the church around Easter…

As an aside, I want to note that Miller makes some great observations about the importance of liturgical rhythms:
“Liturgical Christians have long benefited from an annual rhythm built into the church year.  Whether they use these terms or celebrate on the same day with the same ritual, all Christian traditions recognize Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.  In her wonderful book The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year (2008), Kimberlee Conway Ireton contrasts the value of following the church year with our American cultural calendar: ‘Observing the seasons of the church year also helps us embrace the church’s telling of time instead of our culture’s. Our culture’s calendar is grounded in capitalism, which requires consumption.  Back-to-school sales, day-after-Thanksgiving sales, the Christmas shopping season, after-Christmas sales, Valentine’s Day… The church year, on the other hand, is grounded in the story of Christ, which is the foundational story of our lives as Christians.  It tells the story of our faith-the grand and sweeping story of the God who came to live among us as one of us. (pp. 13-14)” (p. 130).
Serving in ministry cross-culturally means that we need to be even more sensitive to the ways that seasons and stages affect the life of the church.  That will happen best in conversation with local partners to understand how best to bless and serve the people of God.

May the God who has our times in his hands (Psalm 31:15) help us to “tell time” well as we minister and work for the benefit of Christ’s kingdom!

Grace and Peace,

Alan

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Gallows Humor in Missions

A few years ago, I was at a gathering of missionaries serving in Africa.  Sitting around the table after supper, the person next to me started telling his own stories of tough experiences since moving to the continent.  Going around the table and sharing, most of them had served less than five years as a cross-cultural missionary.  So when at last it came my turn, I remember the expressions on their faces as I shared some of what has happened to us.

Our mission team has served in northern Mozambique since 2003 and that has given us plenty of experiences to laugh and cry about.  Beyond the “normal” or “expected” difficulties of struggling to learn language and culture, leaving behind family and friends as well as enduring sickness and sunburn, malaria and dysentery, right at the beginning or our time in Africa, we were falsely accused and ended up living in exile for over a year.  Our mission team experienced a painful split.  We felt abandoned by some colleagues and others fell into sin.  And, at the time of this retreat, I was still in the midst of processing a recent difficult event: a home invasion.  Needless to say, that was a lot to drop on a group of people that I barely knew. 

It was interesting and encouraging, though, to see the way the group handled all of our negative experiences.  We could have cried, but instead, amazingly, we spent the meal laughing… a lot.  While still recognizing the seriousness of what each of us had gone through, the group was not allowing the pain to have the final word or authority.  Instead of giving in to despair or desolation, the tone was that of laughter – there was an appropriate amount of levity. 

In reflecting on that memorable dinner conversation, I’ve realized that being able to laugh at tough experiences has propped me up at multiple points along the journey.  Joking with my teammates (as well as praying with them!) about mystery illnesses helped with the fact that we are so far from quality medical care. And humor has been especially important in processing our interactions with a toxic church leader who has caused so many problems over the years.  At one point when it looked like this man’s efforts to get us kicked out of the country just might have turned out to be effective, I remember laughing with Chad and Jeremy about different silly employment opportunities that might be in our future. In the life of our mission team, humor has been a very effective release valve for dealing with stress and struggles.

One label for this kind of response is: “Gallows Humor.”  Examples can be found all over the world of this natural, normal instinct. Wikipedia summarizes it this way: “Any humor that treats serious matters, such as death, war, disease, and crime, in a light, silly or satirical fashion is considered gallows humor. Gallows humor has been described as a witticism in response to a hopeless situation.”


Gallows Humor in Medicine

As I have tried to think critically about my own experience of gallows humor, an article by Katie Watson has been very helpful.  She looks at the ethics of the way medical doctors use gallows humor to cope with their own encounters with pain and death.  The following are quotes from: “Gallows Humor in Medicine” by Katie Watson The Hastings Center Report. 2011; 41(5):37-45. --> link

“Gallows humor is humor that treats serious, frightening, or painful subject matter in a light or satirical way. Joking about death fits the term most literally, but making fun of life-threatening, disastrous, or terrifying situations fits the category as well.”

“Gallows humor is not a feel-good, Patch Adams kind of humor, but it is not synonymous with all cruel humor, either. As one physician put it, the difference between gallows humor and derogatory humor is like ‘the difference between whistling as you go through the graveyard and kicking over the gravestones.’” (D. Wear et al., "Derogatory and Cynical Humor Directed Towards Patients: Views of Residents and Attending Doctors," Medical Education 43 (2009): 34–41, at 39.)

“Viktor Frankl describes concentration camp prisoners who "cracked jokes" about their horrible circumstances: ‘Humor was another of the soul's weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.’" (V. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 56, 54.)

Philosopher Ted Cohen argues that sometimes we joke not for distance but for connection. If you laugh at my joking, it means that we are alike in some way, that we see the world similarly. (T. Cohen, Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 29. Cohen's book addresses scripted jokes, but many of his insights apply to spontaneous joking as well. In Cohen's terms, humor serves the vital psychological and social function of confirming or cultivating intimacy, and establishing or reinforcing community. (Ibid., 28–31)).  Another function of joking Cohen considers is acknowledging and integrating painful absurdities: "When we laugh at a true absurdity, we simultaneously confess that we cannot make sense of it and that we accept it. Thus laughter is an expression of our humanity, our finite capacity, our ability to live with what we cannot understand or subdue. We can dwell within the incomprehensible without dying from fear or going mad." (Ibid. 41.)

Kuhlman argues that gallows humor "offers a way of being sane in an insane place." (T.L. Kuhlman, "Gallows Humor for a Scaffold Setting: Managing Aggressive Patients on a Maximum-Security Forensic Unit," Hospital and Community Psychiatry 39, no. 10 (1988): 1085.

Joan Sayre came to a compatible conclusion in her study of psychiatric unit meetings: gallows humor was one part of "the basic social process of facing a series of ultimately unresolvable problems." (J. Sayre, "The Use of Aberrant Medical Humor by Psychiatric Unit Staff," Issues in Mental Health Nursing 22 (2001): 669–89, at 674)

This article discusses the way doctors use gallows humor in positive, helpful ways as well as describing the dangers of using gallows humor with patients who are not ready for that kind of levity.  Watson believes that gallows humor serves an important function within the medical community as a way to cope with working in the midst of death.  At best, it is a kind of “insider” talk that allows doctors to process tragedy in a healthy way, allowing them to continue to serve.

Gallows Humor, Humility and Missions

I’ve seen many missionaries naturally lean on gallows humor as a coping mechanism, but I think it is helpful to consider and recognize the benefits of using it appropriately (laughing at tough situations as well as, or instead of, crying).  

In order to do that, one of the main adjustments we may need to make is to not take ourselves too seriously. Without an appropriate levity about himself or herself, the missionary will not be able to discern levity or irony in the world.  There is an important link between humor and humility.  In the introduction to Erwin McManus’ book An Unstoppable Force, Rick Warren talks about the importance of self-deprecating humor.  He says, “It’s an enduring trait that I’ve found in all pastors who are greatly used by God.  Too many Christian leaders take themselves way too seriously and don’t take God seriously enough.  Humor and humility come from the same root word” (7).

In important counsel for preachers, Long recommends:
“'Never lose a sense of humor about yourself.’ Perhaps that line ought to be engraved on a plaque and placed on the back of the pulpit alongside the traditional quotation from the Gospel of John, ‘We would see Jesus.’ The verse from John would remind us to take the task of preaching the gospel of Christ seriously; the phrase about a sense of humor would encourage us not to take ourselves too seriously while we are doing that task.  Moreover, a sense of humor in worship is not only a sign of humility but also of the gospel’s liberating power. ‘With Easter,’ states Moltmann, ‘the laughter of the redeemed… begins.’  Because God in Christ has broken the power of sin and death, Christian congregations and their preachers are free to laugh at themselves and they can also laugh at the empty gods of pride and greed.  They can mock hell and dance on the grave of death and sin.” (Long, The Witness of Preaching, 8-9)
If anyone can have the courage to laugh at death it should be followers of Jesus.  As Willard notes, “Jesus’ attitude toward death is frankly quite cavalier” (The Great Omission, 222).  And Paul, our model missionary, while facing disease, difficulties and his own demise was not afraid to use humor to taunt and mock the enemy of death (1 Cor. 15:55).   

Having an appropriate level of humility about our own humanity allows us to appreciate correctly our role in the mission of God. “We do the very best we know, we work hard, and even self-sacrificially.  But we do not carry the load, and our ego is not involved in any way with the mission and the ministry.  In our love of Jesus and his Father, we truly have abandoned our life to him.  Our life is not an object of deep concern” (The Great Omission, 101).

Conclusion:

Humor can be a useful mechanism for finding a deeper understanding for what is happening around us and our place in the drama.  Peterson says that “some insights are only accessible while laughing. Others only arrive by indirection” (The Contemplative Pastor, 115).  And gallows humor can clear the clutter of tension and stress on the path and make a way for perseverance. “We cannot alter the tragic character of human life, but that we can endure and so prevail.” (Rowan Greer, Broken Lights and Mended Lives, 206)

Watson comments that the power in gallows humor is that while we admit our own frailty in the situation, that levity allows us to look forward: “In a situation that (is) horrific and absurd, a joke is the rock you throw after the bad guy's already gone—an admission of loss, and a promise to fight again another day.” Like medical doctors, cross-cultural missionaries end up experiencing and witnessing a lot of tragedy and gallows humor can be a way to both hold onto an appropriate amount of personal humility as well as use irony and humor to highlight the way that God’s kingdom could possibly poke through in the future.

Gallows humor treats serious (or grave!) matters with the medicine of laughter.  And at its best, that laughter can help bring us back from despair and call to mind the ways that the powers of death and decay will eventually die themselves.  Gallows humor can help us bring the irony before God, asking our true Lord to redeem what by all accounts should be weak and dead.

What do you think?  Any thoughts on how gallows humor has been a blessing in your life or ministry?

Grace and Peace,
Alan