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5 Highlights from a Slovokian Summer Camp

Summer camps exhaust me. I love teens, and I love spending quality time with them. But by the last day of a full week at summer camp I just want to take my sore muscles, raspy voice, and weary eyes home from some much needed rest.

This last week has been different. By the end, I was still sore, raspy, and tired. But I could easily have stayed longer.

And I can’t quite figure out why. The language barrier made it difficult to capitalize on those spontaneous conversations that usually provide the best opportunities for meaningful interaction. So I’ve been at camps where I felt like I’ve had more of an impact. The camp facilities were smaller than I’m used to, which means there was also less to do. So I’ve been at camps that were more fun. And trust me, it wasn’t not the food! So why did I feel like I could have stayed longer?

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This Isn’t Kansas Anymore: Life at a Slovakian Summer Camp

My wife and I lived in Scotland for a couple of years. And, in many ways, making the transition to Scotland was much easier than moving to a place like Papua New Guinea. The language and culture of Scotland are similar enough to America that we could navigate through society fairly easily.

One thing we noticed, though, is that when two cultures are rather similar, it really makes the differences stand out. You have a nice breakfast with bacon, eggs, and toast, all things that any American would be quick comfortable eating, and then they hit you with some smoked haddock, which will stay with you all day long…and then some. You get the hang of driving on the other side of the road, and then you run across a road sign you’ve never seen before. (It took me a long time to figure out what the “no parking” sign was trying to tell me.)

When something seems mostly familiar, the differences really stand out.

That’s been my experience this week. In many ways, the summer camp that we’re helping with in Slovakia is just like the many camps I’ve attended in America. And that’s not surprising given that my church in America has a long-standing partnership with this one. We’ve been helping with camps here for years, and many of the Slovak leaders have interned at my church for as long as a year. So the games, the format of the evening program, the small groups, the free time, these all feel like home.

And, as I discussed in my last post, the students here face the same challenges as early adolescents everywhere. So even new students are old friends.

But the similarities just make the differences stand out that much more.

What do I mean? Here are six differences between a Slovakian summer camp and one in America. Or, to be more accurate, here are six differences between this Slovakian summer camp and the ones I’ve attended in America.

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Fumbling Toward Belonging: Are Middle Schoolers the Same Everywhere?

Looking around the room, I see many familiar faces. I see the athlete all the girls will love in a few years, though now he’s a little shy and prefers to run with his hair flying in the wind. Next to him is his awkward, overweight, and rather nerdy friend, loyal to a fault and trying to keep up. Across the room are several other boys, the popular crowd: fun and good looking, sought out by others. And, of course, there are others as well: the boy who looks like puberty is still years away, and the other one whose body is well into the process but whose mind may never catch up.

And there are the girls. On my left is the power group: the tall, attractive girls who look several years older than any other kid in the room, though they’re not. Confident and insecure at the same time. A few seats to my right are several smaller and rather awkward girls, the ones who haven’t yet grown out of the slight layer of “baby fat” that still pads their young bodies. Scattered around the room are a few others who don’t quite have a niche of their own yet. All of them clearly wrestling with what it means to be caught between child and woman.

I know these kids. And I know them well. But I’ve never been here before.

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Doing Missions with Kids

We’re almost at the end of our first week in Slovakia. The jet lag is entirely gone, the temperature has cooled enough for us to sleep with the windows closed, blocking out the street noise below, and were still having a great time.

This is the first time my wife and I have been to Slovakia–indeed, anywhere in Eastern Europe. So we’re having plenty of new experiences. But what really makes this trip unique is that we’re here as a family.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

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Are Short-Term Mission Trips Really Worth It?

Have no fear, the Americans are here. You’ve got problems, we’ve got solutions. And, conveniently enough, we also have some free time to fix your problems. Lucky you.

Not only that, but we get to visit some really cool parts of the world while we’re at it. Bonus.

Maybe I’m a bit jaded, but that’s what I always think when someone talks about short-term mission trips. I immediately wonder if the trip isn’t motivated more by ethnocentrism and tourism than altruism.

Yet I’m going on a short-term mission trip. My whole family is. We leave tomorrow.

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Hospitality at the Heart of the Gospel

People love barbecues, potlucks and meals together. There’s something spiritual, missional and even sacramental about biblical hospitality. It is a missional and sacramental practice because it is rooted in the very character and presence of God himself, in his love for sojourners, strangers and aliens. Hospitality lives at the heart of the gospel and missional life.”

Roger Helland and Leonard Hjalmarson, Missional Spirituality: Embodying God’s Love from the Inside Out (IVP, 2011), 186.

Hospitality is critical to the gospel, indeed the whole story of redemption, because the gospel is about God reaching out beyond himself to include others in his joyous life. So a gospel-shaped people should exude hospitality. It should be one of our hallmark characteristics, that word that naturally jumps to mind when people think “Christian.”

Locked in my own plans, needs, and interests, I needed that reminder today.

America’s Unchanging Views On Creationism

Americans’ views on evolution and creationism have remained relatively unchanged over the last 30 years. That’s the conclusion of a recent Gallop study. Granted, the number of people who believe in some form of atheistic evolution have been steadily, though slowly, increasing. But the overall number is still rather low (15%), with the rest holding to theistic evolution (32%) or creationism (46%). And creationism has been pretty steady at between 43% and 46% through the whole study, with one apparently anomalous year (2011).

I linked to the in yesterday’s Flotsam and Jetsam, but the charts were interesting enough that I thought I would go ahead and pass those along as well.

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The One Minute Gospel: Helpful Tool or Tragic Mistake? (part 1)

My latest post on the Transformed blog looks at “The One Minute Gospel.” Should we try to summarize the gospel in one minute? Does that have any value, or does it simply distort the very message we’re trying to communicate? In this post, I offer a few thoughts on why I think this can still be a helpful thing to do. In the next part, I’ll unleash my more critical self.

Here’s how the post begins. If you’re interested, go check out the rest.

I’ve been sitting on a plane next to some guy for a couple of hours. And I’ve sent all my usual “Don’t talk to me” signals: book, headphones, minimal eye contact. The usual tools of the traveling introvert. But this time it hasn’t worked. This guy really likes to talk.

Just as the plane is about to land, the conversation turns toward spiritual things. Now I feel a bit guilty for having tried to duck the conversation the whole trip. But still, I recognize the opportunity. A gospel opportunity. I only have about one minute before the plane touches down and everyone starts pulling their stuff together. One minute.

Almost every evangelism training I’ve ever been through has emphasized the importance of being able to share the gospel in one minute or less. The assumption seems to be that this is something every mature Christian should be able to do. And, to be honest, I agree. But with some significant reservations. From the right perspective, the One Minute Gospel can be very helpful. But far too often the One Minute Gospel leads us into a number of critical errors.

Read the rest here.

The Neuroscience of “Spiritual” Disciplines

Fasting. Intentionally going without food for long periods of time. That’s always been a difficult concept for me. Lots of people in this world go without food because they don’t have any. Why would I do that to myself on purpose?

In a recent Christianity Today article, Rob Moll argues that neuroscience can help us understand why spiritual disciplines like fasting are so important. It’s not just about giving up food (or other things) for a time. It’s about engaging in practices that can help shape us into being who we are called to be.

He begins by pointing out that many Christians today struggle with the spiritual disciplines because we shy away from anything that looks like self-denial. We’ll fast for a cause–e.g., solidarity with the poor–but we avoid fasting for other reasons. “But as we relearn to fast, we should remember that these disciplines are very much about us and our own personal faith.”

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15 Reasons I Left/Stayed in the Church

Going to church can be painful. And I don’t just mean that you may have to get up early, surrender some “down time,” and possibly listen to a bad sermon. These are painful enough on their own. But for many, going to church is difficult for much more significant reasons. And, as a result, some choose not to go at all. Others stay, but only after extensive soul-searching.

Should you stay or should you go? That’s not an easy question for many people to answer. Especially when it’s not just a question of leaving one church for another. What if you’re beginning to suspect that all churches are broken? What if you’re not sure that any church will do? What if leaving means walking away from the church entirely?

Here two thoughtful, but very different, responses to those questions. On the one hand, Rachel Held Evans explains why she decided to leave. And, on the other, Hannah from Sometimes a Light tells us why she stayed.

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