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5 Things Young Adults Should Know about Serving as a Missionary

5 Things Young Adults Should Know about Serving as a Missionary

We talked with SAMS Missionary April Sylvester currently serving in Zambia to learn what Young Adults should know about serving as a missionary overseas. Here are five things she wants you to know:

1. Some days will be super busy and exciting! Check out this video of what mission is like in Zambia where I mentor students in a Gap Year program.

2. But other days may not be exciting at all, in fact, most days may not be.

Whenever I tell people I live and serve in Zambia, one of the first reactions is always “Wow that must be exciting!” Well yes and no. In my opinion, if we are doing missions well, we are building a life where we live (whether in America or overseas). And building a life means making things normal and doing mundane things. It means building relationships and routines. It means doing things like grocery shopping and paying car insurance bills. Yes, doing those things may look different than in America, but they will be just as routine and mundane. So your life serving overseas will most likely be just as “exciting” as your life at home. But that’s a good thing! It means you’re doing it right.

3. When you build a life where you serve, you will create lasting and meaningful relationships.

Living in a foreign and new place can be a bit intimidating at first. Reaching out to form friendships can even be a bit taxing, but God placed you in a certain place for a reason. He will put people in your path who will help you, love you, and teach you. You will also help, love, and teach them over things like music or food, but even more importantly Jesus. You will talk about deep and sometimes difficult things as you lead others closer to Jesus and grow together in faith.

4. You will miss important things going on at home – especially if you are a young person like me.

Lots of important life events happen in our 20s and 30s. So if you are a young missionary, you just have to know that that is part of the sacrifice of deciding to live a couple thousand dollars worth of a plane ride away from friends and family. I have had to miss countless weddings. Even those of my best friends. I have missed my brother and sister’s graduation and even my grandmother’s funeral. You will want to be back for every one of these landmarks, but with just one trip home per year, you will have to pick and choose. And there will also be unplanned events that you will have to miss…I was in Zambia when my mom suddenly passed away. And while I made it back for her funeral, my heart still breaks thinking that I didn’t get to hug her like the rest of my family on the day of her stroke. Mourning missing life events comes with the territory of saying yes to the call.

5. You will get your hands dirty.

We took a day trip to a small village. It was the first day of evangelism. As we approached two women building a mud house with their bare hands.  As one team member began to ask them questions like “Do you know God? Do you attend church?” another team member noticed their yellow water cans were empty. He picked them up and walked to fill them, returning with sweat pouring down his face, his hands dirty, and water all over his jeans from the containers sloshing. At that moment I realized that is the kind of missionary I wanted to be. It is not uncommon for church service to be 5 hours long and school is notoriously lecture-based. So how many times do we come across someone who is not concerned with words but is willing to get down into the mud of life with us? It means being able to really see people and their needs. Sometimes you will sweat, learn, and love your way towards that goal.

Are you a young adult or know a young adult that is interested in serving cross-culturally? Meet up with SAMS at Urbana 2018 Missions Conference, an eye-opening global missions conference, a sacred space for college and graduate students, faculty, and church leaders to hear God’s call. Register here and drop a comment below to let us know if you will be attending!

April Sylvester

SAMS Missionary to Zambia

April is involved in an outreach ministry to Zambian youth that involves discipleship and mission training. Her home church is Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. Support April here.

A Realization About Giving

A Realization About Giving

The other night, my thoughts about Giving were rocked.

We have been studying spiritual giftings and the one for this week was giving. Growing up in Christian subculture in America, I have a very specific view of giving. The first thing to come to mind was the love language of gift giving. Gary Chapman names it as one of the 5 love languages.

But our pastor this evening defined giving a bit differently. Giving is the ability and desire to grab onto a vision.

“Huh.” I thought. “I have never thought of it like that.” When you give, you are giving to a vision of the future. A birthday present is a vision of a happy individual with a long life. A gift to building fund is a vision for a structure that will affect the community. And a gift to (say) a missionary in Zambia, is a vision for a thriving global community.

The more I thought about it, the more I LOVE this definition of giving as a spiritual gift and discipline.

You, my wonderful partners, have ALL exercised the spiritual gift of giving my grabbing onto the vision I have been called to here in Zambia to raise up healthy and world-changing youth. Your gifts and prayers are not just gifts and prayers. They are a physical manifestation of holding onto that amazing vision.

So I wanted to thank you for grabbing ahold of the vision with me! Together, we are creating the Kingdom on earth.

By April Sylvester

By April Sylvester

SAMS Missionary to Zambia

How To Love Your Body

What is that one part of your body that you actually really like? Not a part that others like. And not a part that you pretend to like. Think hard: what part of your body would you not change even if you could? There is something I promise you. Maybe you have awesome nails. Or naturally long eye lashes. Or color highlights in your hair that come out in the sun. Or maybe you have a speckle of yellow in your eyes. Or maybe you have a cute little innie belly button.

For me, it’s my lips. I love the shape of my lips. How they are not super full but not too thin either. How the top lip creates that perfect hipster-mustache shape.

Choose a part of your body you love and dwell on it for a bit. Show it off. If you love that one part, the love will soon spread to other parts of your body too!

In fact, you know what? My toes might not be so bad either. 😉

Question to ponder: What part of your body do you really like?

3.       Go to another culture

Imagine this: You walk into a room of people and they all turn around to look at you. But instead of judging, you know that they are looking at you in awe. Like you are a goddess. You are stunning in their eyes. And you stand a little taller. No more trying to be smaller or more invisible. You are proud to be in the body you have. You feel like a queen. You can do anything in the world.

It’s not a dream, my friends. This fairy tale world is real.

This is where I get to plug one of my favorite things in the world: travel! There are so many different countries and cultures out there and they all value different things in physical appearance. For example, my crazy white skin is not the ideal in America. But they love it in India. America values skinniness but here in Zambia and other parts of Africa, it is the big-bodied ladies that get all the attention.

Here in Zambia I feel like a queen, strong and confident. And sadly, I swear I can just feel the negative body thoughts flood into my mind as soon as I step into the airport in America. It is like they feed it to us through the air. So subtle but ever present. It is in the way people dress (have you ever noticed what we choose to show or cover up?), in who is on the cover of the tabloids in the shops, or even who gets the job as news anchors on the tv monitors around the terminal.

Living in Zambia has been like body image therapy. There have actually been times I have worn a contour dress here and not even thought about sucking in! Now THAT is freedom.

Note: I am not naïve to the historical and colonial reason that some cultures value certain physical appearances. (ie. why they value whiteness here in Zambia). But my point still stands that if you experience another value system, you will realize that the one narrative that you have been told your whole life is in fact not the only one. Just be careful of playing into the power structures.

Question to ponder: Where in the world might some aspects of my body be more appreciated?

4.       Develop and unconditional love for your body

“I just want to get back to how I looked back in [insert year].” Anyone else heard or said that before?

One thing that I have always been confused about is that they tell us as young girls struggling with self confidence to work on loving ourselves the way we are. But as soon as I get to a point of accepting myself the way I am or the way I look, I change. I don’t stay the same.

Bodies are dynamic things, changing every moment. And that’s not a bad thing! It’s actually so cool! Your personality, character, and interests change with time. But even more fundamentally so does your physical body. Your fat deposits move around, your metabolism changes, and your cells regenerate like crazy. In fact, almost all of your cells are completely new from even a few years ago. (Fun fact: did you know that some of the oldest cells in your body are your coreas?!)

Part of self-love is accepting our bodies, yes, for how they are now. But also how they have been and how they will be. It is an exercise in unconditional love. Like a promise that you make. Love for yourself cannot be static. It is a dynamic love that grows and changes right along with your body.

Question to ponder: How can I unconditionally love my body?

3 Tips for Combating Loneliness in a New Place

3 Tips for Combating Loneliness in a New Place

There are so many beautiful things about living in another country (see blog post). The food, the people, the scenery, learning new things. But there are also hard parts too. Not every day is an Instagram worthy picture of me hugging smiling kids or hiking cool hills. There are days that I just want to go to Starbucks but then I remember that there are no (proper) coffee shops in this city. Or when I want to go on a walk in the park…oh whoops. No parks. And there are definitely days that I just want a hug from my dad but he is an ocean away.

I hesitate to use the phrase culture shock because it is so crazily overused and a bit ambiguous. It is way bigger than that and actually more universal than you think. In fact, we have a word for it in anthropology. Anomie. “A sense of disconnection from society and a feeling of not belonging that result from weakened social cohesion.”

Here is the feeling I am talking about. See if you resonate with any of it:

No one understands me or knows who I really am. And when I do try to make connections, it just doesn’t work. I am alone. Everything is different and I don’t know how to navigate it–even the way that people make relational connections or eat or go about their day/work—so I cannot make a difference here because when I try it fails. It is too much. I wish I was back home.

Yes, I have thought all of these things. And whether you have moved across the world or just to the college dorm, I bet you have thought some of these things too.

At the beginning of last year, I was drowning in feelings like this. I felt alone and useless here in Zambia. I felt like I did not have any friends, was far away from my family, and things were crumbling at work. I just wanted to throw in the towel, but what do you do when going home is not an option?

To all you international workers, missionaries, college freshmen, new job holders, relocated married couples, literally all teenagers at one point or another, and anyone just feeling a little bit lonely: this is for you.

Now I have to tell you something–I LOVE dogs! Especially big ones. And I really did want to get one when I was struggling last year. I needed to know that something/someone was depending on me. A little living, breathing something in this world that would care if I was here or not. But dogs are a heck of a lot of work and money. So what’s the next best? A cat.

I found out through a local facebook group that there was a stray litter of kittens at a guest house in town. Zambians are not fond of cats (especially black ones) so they were free! Gosh dang it they were so cute jumping off of cat trees like sky divers and rolly pollying around the grass. So I scooped up a cute black and white one and took her home. (Side note: at the police road block on the way back home, the officer thought I was absolutely insane for hugging this little nugget so tightly to my chest. He thought I was even more insane when I said “I just became a mom!”)

Sophia is my little ray of sunshine when I come home. She always greets me at the door. And honestly she has gotten me through a lot. I have cuddled her, cleaned up her pee, vaccinated her, gotten pet sitters, moved house with her, and cried with her. This little fur ball doesn’t have drama and doesn’t talk about me behind my back. She doesn’t care if I say the right words or if I am upset one day. She just loves me. And that is what I need in this crazy world.

8 Deeper Reasons to Experience Another Culture

8 Deeper Reasons to Experience Another Culture

I have recently been reflecting on how interacting with and living in a different culture has deeply affected me. And I am convinced that everyone should experience this! God made this whole cool world with beautiful people and places and we have the privilege of exploring it! So whether you decide to move to a completely different hemisphere like me or just go on a two week trip, these are a few reasons to get you out the door and onto the plane.

  1. Get a better perspective on life back at home

I have something to break to you: you are not the center of the world. I know, I know. You are going to be like “April duh I know that.” And yes we all know it, but how many of us actually live like it is true? Traveling and living alongside lives that are different from yours, changes your perspective and ultimately the way you live in such a cool way. It changes the way (or what) you eat, the way you think about work, the way you worship, the way you listen, even the way you vote.

Quick story:

I have to give a disclaimer: I hate politics. And I always have because by nature I am a peace maker and politics has always felt divisive in my experience. And, for those reasons, I had a super hard time with this last election. Without getting into anything specific (again, I hate politics), I remember thinking how stuck I felt. None of the candidates were a particularly good choice in my mind and there was so much arguing and hate. I did not even want to vote! I seriously considered not casting a ballot for a while. But then I thought of my friends in Zambia and South Africa. My not voting would be like spitting in their faces. Whether I like it or not, what happens in America effects the rest of the world. My vote is not just my own. So I did go vote… with my friends around the world in mind.

The more exposure you have to other people and places, the more your opinions and lifestyle will change back home.

  1. Experience new traditions and holidays

It is human to celebrate. And one of the coolest things about experiencing another culture is being able to celebrate alongside local people.

Travel hack: if at all possible, go to a wedding when you are abroad. It is the fastest sure fire way of finding out how each culture celebrates. And let me tell you Zambian weddings are a hoot! Dancing and yelling and eating…and more dancing.

Experiencing these different celebrations can at first be disorienting because we don’t know what is going on. But stick it out and I promise you that you will find something to love about it. In fact, you might just find me dancing down the aisle at my wedding.

 

 

  1. The people (not the photos)

I know you have done it. We all have. Scrolled through Instagram liking all those pristine pictures of adventure babes with big boobs and small waists perched atop a mountain overlooking a gorgeous valley in a nondescript but beautiful part of the world. And you think “I want to do that too.” Granted, pretty pictures are great. Looking hot in them can be even better. But the best thing cannot be captured: relationships and people.

Okay okay. Don’t throw tomatoes at me for being cheesy just yet! Just think about it. What was your favorite part about your last trip? I’m gonna bet it wasn’t the photos.

Take, for example, my recent trip to Denmark. One of my favorite parts was meeting a kind (then) stranger who offered to take us on a bike ride around the city. Sure I have a few blurry iphone pics, but the real experience is all mine to savor. And I got a friend out of it too!

People are the things that enrich travel, not photos. And getting to interact with people all over the world is one of the biggest perks of traveling!

  1. Learn to relate to people that are different from you.

We conceptually know that there are people out there that live and think differently from us, but our sense of “normal” is based on what we are used to right? Anything else is “weird” or (worse) wrong. I don’t have to tell you that Americans are infamous for this kind of attitude. But here is the key to this sickness: knowing…really knowing…people that are different from you!

I have some really awesome friends here in Zambia, but it has come with work.

For example, Zambians are very conflict avoidant whereas Americans like to hit things straight on. When I have had conflict in the past, I tried talking about it and it usually is very uncomfortable for my Zambian friends. So I have had to adjust my tactics to more relational and round-about ways. But because we have been through those patches, I understand my Zambian friends better and vice versa.

  1. Become more flexible

I know what you are thinking “Uh oh. That doesn’t sound good.” And you would be correct. This one usually happens when things go wrong. And things go wrong a lot when you are in a different country. It goes to reason that when you are not familiar with a place, you don’t know how everything works so things are just bound to not go according to plan. You will miss the train. You will get lost. You will say the wrong thing. But, hun, it is alright and life goes on. All of my fellow expats will agree with me when I say, flexibility is the only attitude you can hold if you are going to survive! And—bonus– it will make you a happier, less anxious person  too.

  1. To learn to appreciate beauty in a different way

Babes, this world is so beautiful! And there are so many people and places and landscapes and events that we could have never imagined back home that just radiate that beauty. Living abroad has opened my mind to so many different, beautiful things!

I never used to listen to Afro hiphop music before I moved to Zambia. In fact, if I did I don’t think I would have enjoyed it. But just like fine wine takes time to appreciate, the beauty of music and fashion and architecture take getting used to as well.

I remember when I took this photo thinking “wow. That woman is gorgeous.” Even though it is very different from what I grew up with in suburban America.

  1. For healing

Sometimes we just gotta get out. And I get that. Sometimes experiencing a place and people different from ourselves gives us the distance from home that we need to be able to see the forest through the trees of our every day life. I have been there.

Anthropologists call it “liminal space.” In fact I wrote a whole blog post about it.

When my mom passed away, I felt completely lost. One of the things that got me through my grief was traveling to Europe and walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. My life on the pilgrimage was simple: just get up and walk every day, passing through Spanish countryside and staying in local guesthouses. I came back a changed woman. Giving space to experience life in a different way let me process my life back home.

  1. Bust down your own mental barriers

Traveling will show you that you are actually a lot stronger than you thought you were.

Because of the differences and unknowns, traveling can be pretty daunting and scary. But when you successfully navigate that huge airport, get to your destination, get out and see people and things, and come back home safe n sound, you have all the reason to do a little happy dance. Even though I fly a lot, every time I walk into an airport I get a rush of adrenaline down my spine. There are so many logistical hurdles in between here and there. So many people I don’t even know yet that will help me, hinder me, ignore me, and connect with me. The challenge is exhilarating. Which makes the coming home that much better. When I get back home I am like heck yes I just traveled halfway across the world by myself and not only did I not die, but I actually had fun.

  1. Cuz why not?

The last reason to experience another culture is just “come on dude. Just do it.”

The real question to ask is not “why should I travel” but “why not”? Why not learn from others? Why not experience something new? Why not give yourself a challenge? Why not humble yourself to grow? Why not bask in the beauty? Why not take hot pics on top of a mountain? (oh wait. Scratch that last one)

5 Ways to Turn Challenges Into Opportunities

What living in Zambia has taught me about facing difficult situations

2017 has been a big one for me! It was my first full year living in a different country and culture. And I have had my fair share of challenges big and small. Looking back, I have learned a lot about how to approach these tough situations. And below lies a few insights for the road.

For the record, this post is just as much for me as for you. A little encouragement to us all. I have learned a lot this past year while living in Zambia, but boy do I know I have a lot more to learn. So cheers to you, cheers to learning, and cheers to taking on the challenges that are going to come at us in 2018!

Tips for facing challenges:

The thing is that our solutions to problems are usually not the only way. Our solutions all depend on who you are and how you grew up, your personality, your culture, your economic status, your education level. So one of the very first things I learned to do here was ask my friends what they would do in a situation. One day, my beloved sandals from Target broke. They literally fell off my feet in the middle of a mission trip with our gap year students. Back home, I would just get new sandals. But at the time I was pretty far from any mall and I am also reluctant to buy shoes here because the quality is not always the best. So I asked my friend what I should do. “Oh just take them to the cobbler guy on the side of the road.” So I walked to the little shops still with no shoe on my right foot and found the man with used shoes lined up outside his door. “Odi,” I said (which is the equivalent of “knock knock”) as I entered the tiny dark room only big enough to hold the man and a sewing machine. “Would you be able to help me fix my shoe?” I said as I held up my dangling Target sandal. Without a word, he took it, motioned for me to take a seat, took out this long thick needle and some large thread, and he stitched it up in less than 5 minutes. When he gave it back to me, I turned it over in my hand. I could barely tell it had ever been broken. And it only cost me $2.