Posted by: Steve | September 17, 2014

Ebola and you

With a number of FIM personnel in Africa, the subject of the spread of the Ebola virus has come to our attention at the Home Office. In response to one of our missionary’s question on this topic, Gary Butler wrote:

“I think it’s important to say that neither FIM nor the missionary on the field is omniscient and that the most important factor is to seek diligently the Lord’s direction for the decision to stay or leave. Every missionary should be ready to die on the field, if that is the Lord’s will for His glory. But it would be a waste of a life and cause needless grief to loved ones if it were to happen through carelessness (or stubbornness)? I know I could easily be one of the stubborn ones.”

We want all our FIM people to understand that their individual risk tolerance should drive their decisions when it comes to personal safety. Christy Sopcisak recently wrote,

“. . . I don’t think it is a good witness to others if I leave when times are difficult just because I can.

We admire Christy’s dedication to those she was sent to serve, but we also recognize that conditions could eventually force a number of our personnel to make hard decisions.

God’s Word says: Romans 14:8 “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (ESV)

The question is not whether we live or die, but whether we affirm His ownership of us in whatever state we find ourselves. Paul had learned contentment in a ministry filled with suffering when he said in Philippians 4:11 “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”(ESV)

What a joy and privilege to be His and to find ourselves daily in His care. He expects us to be both obedient and prudent in our service for Him.

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Posted by: Steve | February 16, 2011

Praise The Lord for Snow!

Praise the Lord for snow! I’ll insert a dramatic pause here to allow for the readers’ collective “UGH!” Those of us who live in the Northeastern part of the US seem caught in a cycle of once a week snowfalls. I’ve cleverly managed to miss two of them by going to Word of Life in upstate New York to teach a course on the theology of prayer. It snowed there too, but I didn’t have to shovel it!

So why the title? As six inches of snow had settled over the Lehigh Valley last week, I dutifully donned boots, gloves, scarf, heavy coat, ear muffs, and a hat in preparation to brave the elements. A casual observer would have likened my appearance to that of children of a past era sent outside into the snow wearing snowsuits that restricted all movement but breathing. These outings were typically accompanied with the encouragement from well-meaning parents such as, “Have fun.” But I digress.

As I headed into the land of the frozen, my neighbor, knowing that my snowblower only runs when it isn’t snowing, appeared at the side of my house, blowing the powedery white from my sidewalks. I thanked him for his help and he plodded on down the street to do the same for some elderly folks in the neighborhood. I had managed to coax a few coughing minutes from my snowblower, so I finished the sidewalks and began clearing a large glob of snow in the driveway only to find two cars. My two neighbors further around the cul-de-sac were performing similar duties.

The quietness that accompanies a snowfall has always intrigued me. It seems as if the world goes into a reverent hush as it views the snow laden trees and rolling hills. The silence that followed this snowfall enabled an ongoing conversation among the three neighbors as we worked. We groaned, we laughed, we spoke of life. It was great to continue building on the neighborhood relationships that we have cultivated all the years we have lived on that circle. I did one part of the sidewalk, my nearest neighbor the other. A sense of friendship, kinship, and enjoyment filled the air.

I praise the Lord for snow because it affords opportunities for sharing, for serving others, for joining hands (or shovels in this case) toward common goals. In the season of the year when people living in the Northeast seldom see each other, the snow affords an opportunity for community to resurge.

I praise the Lord for snow because it is in the context of community that the Gospel takes root. Our message of Christ’s love expressed at the cross resonates in the environment of thriving relationships. The snowfall last week gave me a chance to add one more building block to those relatiionships that God has given us to build.

As you look out your window, you might see snow – or rain – or even palm trees waving in the warm tropical breeze. But whatever you see, I encourage you to find ways to build redemptive relationships in the midst of it. Maybe some inconvenience, some interruption in the daily routine will give you something to praise the Lord for.

Posted by: Steve | April 15, 2008

Liberal, Evangelical, or Fundamentalist?

On or about May 7, a group of evangelical leaders will publish a document to be called “An Evangelical Manifesto: The Washington Declaration of Identity and Public Commitment.”  Here are my thoughts on the material posted at the following address:  http://blog.beliefnet.com/castingstones/2008/04/guest-post-whos-evangelical-ma.html?bt=polmashup  You can then choose to return here to read my thoughts or just read them in the comment section of that post.

It seems to me that the “Manifesto” may prove to be more of a watershed than it was intended to be.  Rather than advancing the idea that only a certain individual or group of individuals are entitled to speak for the evangelical community, it may reveal who is and is not really an evangelical.  Since the final document and its signatories are still somewhat enigmatic, it would be unfair to say which group is or is not evangelical. 

 

However, whatever definition of the term “evangelical” one uses, few would deny that it has historically identified a group unwilling to be labeled either “liberal” or “fundamentalist.”  The pejorative use of these two terms from the poles of the Christian community spectrum necessitated the “middle ground.” 

 

But, as is the case in many such definitions, the “middle ground” is shifting, or more accurately, widening. What we once called liberal now qualifies as evangelical, and “fundamentalists” have become increasingly marginalized as the Amish and more conservative Mennonite groups were in a previous century.  We have attached the word “legalism” to efforts mounted to stay the influence of the world on the church.  It reminds me of the little old lady who prayed, “Lord, forgive me.  I do so many things I used to call sin.”

 

I fear that rather than allowing the church to teach doctrine and inform lifestyle with Scripture, we have chosen to pressure the church into accepting both doctrines and lifestyle practices as normative that were soundly rejected by the previous generation.  In the interest of “personal freedom” we have torn down fences before we learned exactly why they were built.  Perhaps we have released an unthinkable beast on the church.  Personal choice has become the watchword, and hence the continual widening of what we call “evangelical.”

 

Nowhere is this better confirmed than in the findings of a recent survey among Roman Catholics in the USA pursuant to the Pope’s visit. The survey found that a high percentage of Catholics in our country feel that the Catholic Church is out of touch with their views.  This is to say that in the minds of those surveyed, the church’s value to their culture is diminished to the degree that it fails to capitulate to the shifting sands of their adjusted spiritual standards. 

 

Maybe it’s time we rethink the term “evangelical” and seek to find consensus on a practical definition of its boundaries. Only then will we know who can speak for that segment of the community.

 

Posted by: Steve | February 4, 2008

The Call – Mystical, Voluntary, or Invitational?

Don Fanning, of Liberty University has written a thought provoking article on “the call.”  What are your thoughts on his perspective?

 http://www.liberty.edu/academics/religion/globalministry/index.cfm?PID=9720&blogpid=12575&id=305680

Posted by: Steve | January 30, 2008

Health Care – Enduring Questions (part 2)

Last week I shared why we require our missionaries to have health insurance. As with any issue, it is wise to fully understand the effects of a decision and our missionaries are no exception. Below are the nine most asked questions about this issue here at Fellowship International Mission.

Question 1: Why do I need health insurance at all? I’m young (or at least I feel young) and I’m healthy.

Answer: The reality is that you will not always be young and you may not be healthy as long as you expect. We buy life insurance, hoping we never use it. We wouldn’t drive a car without car insurance, yet many of us have been accident free for years. The aging process or an unexpected health condition will one day render you uninsurable. If you do not have the insurance before you need it, you can’t get it when you do need it. Choosing not to have health insurance presents a multitude of liabilities ranging from unexpected or complicated births to unanticipated early catastrophic illnesses. The associated financial liabilities are unacceptable. Any unexpected or prolonged medical treatment in the US or elsewhere courts financial disaster and could create ministry-ending burdens. FIM would be remiss in its responsibilities if it did not insist on healthcare for its missionaries.

Question 2: I realize I need health insurance, but why can’t I buy an individual plan instead?

Answer: One way FIM keeps health insurance at affordable levels is through its group plan. In order for a personal plan to be affordable, you must be in good health, with no prior conditions that would preclude your being covered. Even seemingly minor health problems can drive up premiums, or cause you to be denied personal coverage completely. The FIM group plan covers new missionaries regardless of their pre-existing conditions. In addition, our agreement with Aetna Global is that all US citizen missionaries who join the Mission after June of 1995 will be required to join the plan. Non-US citizens may join optionally. Foreign nationals who have obtained a “US permanent residency visa” or have become a US citizen, or hold dual citizenship will be considered US citizens for determining health insurance requirements. The premiums were negotiated with this understanding in mind. Though Aetna does not closely monitor this situation to ensure our compliance, our sense of integrity demands that we keep that agreement. Our broker maintains that organizations that exempt personnel from their group policy are doomed to become an aging group with outrageously high premiums. What typically happens in voluntary environments is that young healthy missionaries opt out of the plan and older missionaries or those with health conditions that make them otherwise uninsurable remain in the plan. This scenario drives the premium up prohibitively. If this were to happen, many of our missionaries would be left without health insurance and would need to seek out individual plans rated for their specific health conditions. Administratively, individual plans would create a nightmare of administrative load and cost. For the Mission to responsibly represent to churches that you carry health insurance would require a monthly tracking system and a monthly check for each missionary’s plan. Many mail systems around the world are fraught with theft and general inefficiency. It would be difficult to be sure that everyone’s premiums would arrive in a timely way. Though electronic transfers are increasingly common, transfer costs can be considerable. Should your premium arrive late, you would be at risk for having your insurance coverage terminated just when you might need it most.

Question 3: Why can’t I pay my own premiums to my individual plan?

Answer: If you paid the premiums from income, the amount of the premium would need to be sent to you on the field, subject to Social Security taxes. This would add a tax burden to you, and an even larger burden when you would be in the US, since the premiums would then become subject to federal, state, and local taxes.

Question 4: Why can’t I buy coverage in my country of service? Can I participate in socialized plans provided free or inexpensively to expatriates in my country of service?

Answer: Such a decision would put you at the mercy of the changing financial fortunes of countries that may choose to alter benefits for expatriates, leaving you with reduced benefits or no coverage at all. Though it may prove prudent to participate in such plans as a supplement to other coverage, national plans alone are seldom sufficient for most missionaries. Some national plans do not accept payment from outside the country, or they may require that you make the payment personally. Funds to cover these costs would need to be sent to you, subject to Social Security taxes. Funds you would receive from FIM to cover these costs while you are in the US would also be subject to federal, state, and local taxes. Some national plans may not cover you when you are away from your field of service. You would then need to purchase short-term health insurance for all travel to the US or elsewhere, a service that is extremely expensive considering the typical coverage. Health insurance premiums not paid by FIM are considered personal expense, but they can be considered when you calculate your salary on your Financial Requirements Chart. In addition, should you become seriously ill on the field and need to come back to the US, you likely would be unable to purchase coverage for that condition. Current laws would allow an insurance company to exempt all costs relating to any pre-existing illnesses. Some missionaries do not serve for life. If you were to leave missionary service and return to the US for reasons other than health, you would lose your national plan and need to buy individual coverage at typically higher rates, assuming you could purchase coverage at all.

Question 5: What if the medical system in my country of service is so good that I don’t plan to return to the US for medical attention?

Answer: There is no question that if you have no intention of returning to the US for medical attention, the FIM group plan appears to be wasteful. However, the plan provides worldwide coverage, whereas some other plans, national or otherwise, might not. Experience teaches us that a high percentage of missionaries return to the US for attention to catastrophic medical conditions. Families, churches, and other important people in your life usually advocate your return to the US for life-threatening or terminal conditions. Only in rare circumstances do missionaries opt to remain on the field until death. Purchasing the FIM plan keeps your options open. World conditions could close your chosen field and you could be required to leave the field. If, while on the field, you were to develop health conditions that demand higher premiums with pre-exiting condition exceptions, or even render you uninsurable, purchasing health insurance in the US could become extremely difficult or impossible. It is important to have continuous coverage to protect insurability.

Question 6: What if I’m on Medicare or have permanent healthcare from the military or some other previous employment?

Answer: Those who have documented lifetime coverage from another source may be exempted from our group plan. However, it is important to remember that Medicare only provides services in the US.

Question 7: Is there another group plan that would be cheaper?

Answer: The Board of Directors researched this issue at the time the contract was entered into and believes it found the best plan for the money. As conditions in the health insurance industry change, we seek to be sensitive to other options, but so far, we have found none competitively priced. On-going contacts with other agencies lead us to believe that our plan is a valuable product.

Question 8: Are there any other benefits to being a part of the FIM group plan?

Answer: Several other benefits exist. Newborn children have health insurance from birth, thereby diminishing your financial exposure in the event of the birth of a child with extraordinary health challenges. You are responsible to notify FIM of new births promptly.

Life insurance Benefit: In addition to health insurance, the FIM group plan currently includes term life insurance on all household members, $25,000 on the head of the household, $5,000 on the spouse, and $2,000 on each unmarried child in the family over the age of 13 days up to their 19th birthday. Coverage for dependent children enrolled full-time in school are covered up to their 23rd birthday. These term life insurance benefits are reduced by 50% when the head of household reaches age 65, and terminate at the 70th birthday.

One-year Prescription Benefit: Because of their specialty in international care, Aetna allows you to purchase a year’s supply of prescription medications.

Dismemberment Benefit: In the event you would lose a hand, foot, or eye, Aetna will provide one half of the principal term life insurance amount.

Question 9: Does my being in the group plan benefit others?

Answer: FIM missionaries serving in the US, but outside the Lehigh Valley area, and those serving in the FIM home office do not qualify for the Aetna group plan which is limited to missionaries serving outside the US. Missionaries in the US working or living outside the immediate Lehigh Valley area typically purchase comparable care in their own areas of ministry. Those working in the home office participate in a US-based plan that is roughly 65% more expensive than the Aetna plan. However, some missionaries serving outside the US benefit immensely from the group effort. Your participation in the FIM group plan enables people serving in remote and undeveloped parts of the world to have access to US healthcare when it is needed. Though you may be serving in a place that affords healthcare comparable to that available in the US, others are not so fortunate. Without the FIM group plan, some of our missionaries would struggle to care for their healthcare needs. For some, healthcare would be either unavailable or greatly diminished. For others, having to purchase health insurance as individuals would be costly due to their pre-existing conditions. Unless we are able to provide a group plan, some of our missionaries would not have access to adequate medical care. Your participation makes possible the group coverage that benefits other faithful servants of the Lord.

THe FIM Board of Directors has given much prayerful thought and discussion to this topic.  It has been and continues to be their judgment that the course we follow with respect to health insurance is both biblical in its perspective and prudent financially.

Posted by: Steve | January 17, 2008

Health care – Pain or Gain? (Part 1)

Increasing medical costs worldwide have made health insurance an essential element of personal financial planning. Health insurance is not optional in today’s world. In recent years, we have witnessed several missionaries benefiting from the FIM health insurance plan in substantial ways. We have also witnessed extremely high medical burdens accumulating on some who chose not to participate in the plan when that option existed. In accord with sound financial policy, and to better care for the FIM family, the FIM Board of Directors has determined that missionaries are required to enroll in the FIM group plan. The following information will explain why the Board of Directors requires missionaries to participate in the Fellowship International Mission group plan. The operational motto of the Mission, “Flexibility in ministry with Integrity and Accountability,” applies as much to the operation of the Mission in general as it does to the individual missionary. We use the word “integrity” in its sense of “soundness.” In Titus 2:7, Paul exhorts Titus to teach with integrity. The word used in the King James Version, “uncorruptness,” carries the idea of “chaste, without contradiction.” The term denotes general soundness. The New International Version has captured the meaning by saying, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness. . . .” We at FIM value sound doctrine, but we also want our organization to be characterized by soundness. We want churches and individual donors to regard what we do for the cause of Christ as worthy of their support. Such soundness benefits the ministry of God’s Word in multi-faceted ways.

Consider these principles that help define that “soundness.”

Principle 1 – FIM bears a responsibility to God. God’s standard for us as believers is to measure our lives and ministries by whether or not they bring glory to God. As a Mission, we need to insure that God’s name is not defamed because we failed to care for the health insurance needs of our missionary family. The Mission bears a moral responsibility to prevent missionaries, their supporting churches, and individual supporters from being burdened with crushing medical bills. In addition, God is glorified when we care for His servants in the best possible way. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we read, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” In addition, God expects our ministry to be conducted in an orderly way. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:40, “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

Principle 2 – FIM bears a responsibility to the sending churches of our missionaries. Most churches today place high expectations on their partner mission agencies. They expect mission agencies to implement policies that are in the best long-term interests of the work their missionaries are doing. Health insurance is typically a part of that expectation.

Principle 3 – FIM bears a responsibility to the Christian community at large. Good healthcare comes with a huge price tag. Missionaries without health insurance typically turn to their churches and individual supporters for funds to cover those costs. This burden drains away resources that would be better spent other ways and induces an “emergency” approach to giving.

Principle 4 – FIM bears a responsibility to its missionaries and their families. Unexpected healthcare expenses can compromise the future of missionary families by adding stress and limiting ministry. Often the only resources missionaries can use to meet unexpected healthcare expenses are funds previously set aside for other purposes. Spending down these accounts seldom solves the problem, but simply relocates and delays the burden.

Posted by: Steve | January 7, 2008

Turtle on a Fencepost

I became intrigued recently by a book written almost three decades ago by Allan C. Emery and Mary C. Crowley entitled “A Turtle on a Fencepost, Women Who Win.”  In the first chapter of this little book, Emery asks us to think about life in a deeper way by eliciting the picture of a turtle on a fencepost.  I have been thinking about how well the image of a turtle on a fencepost depicts missionaries. 

What are a few things we know about a turtle on a fencepost?

  • A turtle on a fencepost didn’t get there on his own. 

Turtles lack the attributes needed for climbing posts.  Unlike the forlorn midnight cry of the neighborhood cat from the top of your backyard tree, having been able to “get up, but not down”, turtles lack the attributes necessary for post climbing. 

Not only do they lack the attributes, turtles also lack the resolve for post climbing.  On their own, they would see no benefit to climbing the post.

How like missionaries!  To be effective, missionaries must first acknowledge their inadequacy to climb the post of ministry.  We must all rely on the Holy Spirit to empower us for the task.  And, without the Lord’s call to service, we would not naturally see the value of our service.  On more than one occasion I have faced incredulity when I tell people I serve the Lord.  They see neither need nor value in such an effort.  I am a turtle on a fencepost.

  • A turtle on a fencepost is outside his comfort zone.

The turtle on a fencepost would rather be on terra firma where his natural attributes give him stability.  The flailing of turtle legs midair is disconcerting both to the turtle and the observer.

How like missionaries!  In missions we call it by many names, contextualization, acculturation, culture shock, etc.  Many missionaries understandably find themselves outside their comfort zone.  Huge adjustments become the order of the day just to carry out the tasks of daily life like shopping, making change, doing laundry, and a host of other mundane necesseties of life.  Many changes all at once test missionaries’ ability to adjust.  But the condition of lost souls compels us!  It’s worth the cost!

  • A turtle on a fencepost isn’t going anywhere unless someone moves him.

The turtle finds himself powerless to make productive progress without help.  He may struggle and fall off the post, but that is the unintended consequence of his being unsettled by his place.  Only when some caring person gently relocates him does the turtle find himself able to move forward without negative consequences.

How like missionaries!  Some missionaries, finding themselves outside their comfort zone, struggle in an effort to do something else.  But the fall from the post of ministry can be jarring.  Only when our caring God reaches into our lives and moves us can we find the joy of life.

The lesson of the turtle on a fencepost is quite simple, really.  God puts missionaries on the post of ministry, because we could not get there on our own.  We often find ourselves outside our comfort zone, but the God who put us where we are knows best.  When its time to leave the post, only God can make that decision.

Posted by: Josiah (KE0BLL) | December 12, 2007

On Flexibility At FIM

When we talk about being unique, our flexibility is usually the first topic to come up.

Flexibility has been a cornerstone of Fellowship International Mission since its founding in 1950. Wherever missionary work has prospered, there seems to have been freedom to move quickly and decisively to seize opportunity for the sake of Christ.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is still the Lord of the Harvest; that it is still HIS work to send out the workers. This being so, it is not necessary or desirable to check and double-check His leading as it is understood by a church or its missionary. It is certainly wrong to elevate a mission board to His place of authority – to insist that sending churches and missionaries conform to the kind of rigidity and inflexibility that often results.

Flexibility helps to guarantee that missionaries have room to move obediently, speedily, and efficiently in response to openings for the Gospel. They know that they can do this with a minimum of restrictive policy or administrative red tape.

You can learn more about what makes us unique here.

Posted by: Josiah (KE0BLL) | December 12, 2007

And so we begin…

Welcome to the first post to this blog. We’re hoping to provide encouragement and education to missionaries and churches while also helping others understand the unique role that FIM plays in the mission strategy of both. We believe God has provided us with some great tools, experience and wisdom that we hope to share with all of you.

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