By Jeremy* | Fall 2022
No matter the date of birth or country stated on your birth certificate, this article hopes that you consider an assignment with EMM. But if that challenge feels like a non-starter for you, keep reading and hear me out
first. There are four main reasons we joined EMM as young adults and then rejoined again in our middle age. The reasons stayed the same but the understanding of their importance has matured. Three reasons EMM is special are: its prioritization of local culture and relationships, its holistic view of missions, and its value of well-being. The fourth reason I’ll save until the end …
In a paper titled “The Missionary as Stranger” by Eric Cohen from the University of Jerusalem, he observes how Christian missionaries to Thailand have evolved over the century to become more sensitive and understanding to the local culture. As I read it I thought that EMM has always operated that way. In the year 2000, we were trained by some of the EMM pioneers, David Shenk and Don Jacobs. They on-boarded us by immersing us in cultural and hands-on experiences. We visited a Muslim mosque, a Buddhist pagoda, a Messianic Jewish temple, and volunteered alongside a team of local missionaries serving in an area of Philadelphia known for its narcotics trafficking. The in-class part of the on-boarding ranged from modules on forgiveness to culture shock to personality profiling to anthropology.
We were then launched overseas to work with the Maasai people of Kenya from 2000 to 2006. Our job description was one sentence, “walk alongside the people.” How that played out meant being learners and bonding with the people and fully understand the culture — we were literally adopted into the family we lived with for 6 months during language study and took on their family name. There was only one church in the region we lived in but it was vibrant and filling up with brand new believers. We were amazed to see their traditional culture enhanced and enriched as they came to faith in Jesus.
We worked alongside the community in health care, education, food security, church planting, and leadership development. We partnered with a wide range of government and non-government organizations. It was rewarding to see the Holy Spirit transform lives. It was an adventurous time, a hard time, and it shaped our lives forever. We had amazing supervisors who prioritized our marriage and our personal wellbeing — that level of care was critical for our retention and motivation.
We eventually worked ourselves out of our jobs and were commissioned by our Maasai brothers and sisters back to Canada. When I asked my best friend and mentor “Chairman” David Ole Shunkur if I should take a job as a pastor of a church in Canada or a business opportunity at a growing food company he suggested I’d have a more meaningful opportunity to influence people in the business world. And so we engaged with the Canadian business culture and built relationships for 14 years.
It was again adventurous, very hard, and shaping. When we were hit with some major “curve balls” I realize now that well-being was maybe not as present and both Jen and I were feeling beaten up for a chunk of our time. I loved my job and we loved our life, but we were “walking with a limp” and maybe it was the brokenness of life that was part of the “push” into something new.
The “pull” began in 2019 when I was leaving the house to go to the office and Jen shouted at me that there was a position of regional representatives to Southeast Asia on the EMM website; and without thinking about it I told her, “Apply.” We were accepted and ended up in Chiang Mai, Thailand with our three teenage kids, landing one month before Covid hit the world.
We began relating with our team and observed how they connected deeply with their local communities and how they did a wide range of work and all had unique approaches to that work. We have church planters, nurses, teachers, business leaders, disciplers of young people, all sprinkled throughout rural and urban centers.
Jen and I also engage in local work and have plugged into a ministry that empowers exploited women in the red light district of Chiang Mai. And through it all we keep well-being top-of-mind, in the way that hopefully echoes what our beloved supervisors did for us in Africa. Life is difficult, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As the movie character Rocky Balboa said, “It’s not how hard you hit but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” To know that EMM prioritizes wellness through tangible and multifaceted means not only ensures we can keep moving forward but gives us the best chance at thriving while we do.
We need new workers in Southeast Asia. Some may ask why that is the case and why the world even needs cross-cultural missionaries. I grew up in Canada, which is referred to as a cultural mosaic where diversity is valued and encouraged. In the business world everyone agrees that when diversity and unity combine in a healthy way it provides an unmatched synergy. We saw the same thing in Kenya and see the same thing here in Southeast Asia and enjoy the chemistry that occurs as foreigners and local people work together with unique yet complementary perspectives.
Maybe the best analogy is what happens in the book of Acts as people with different world views bumped into each other and challenged one another’s thinking in new ways. Peter and Paul needed each other — we all need our worldviews challenged. So that’s the need in a nutshell, but the problem is we’re struggling to attract new workers.
So I have one more value proposition to you, the reader — the fourth reason we are with EMM. A 2018 article in The Atlantic, “A New Generation Redefines What It Means to Be A Missionary”, suggests that the label “missionary” may not fit well anymore. I’m not sure either way on that, but I do know that Jesus was not concerned with labels and that He recognized that temptation of human nature — especially in the religious world — to use labels to manipulate.
People do not connect with labels, people connect with people. And the secret sauce in all connections is love — having the perfect missiology or speaking the language perfectly is just a clanging cymbal if the work isn’t under-girded by love. John Maxwell says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So if I’d be forced to give only one main reason we came back to EMM and have just signed on for another four-year term, it is … love. The love of our leadership in Pennsylvania for their workers, the love of our team for their families and communities, and the love of Christ that permeates it all. But you don’t have to take my word for it — meet some of the great people at our Central Administrative Office and try a short- or long-term assignment and find out first hand! We’d love to have you join our team.