Tag Archives: Crossing Cultures

MK Essay – Votes Needed!

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We missionaries fiercely band together to root each others’ kids onward to success and victory.

I’m writing this post and sharing the essay below for that precise reason: to help  a missionary kid in Europe win a scholarship.

I voted for him and ask you to do the same. The link to vote is below his essay.

But treat yourself while you’re at it…by reading the essay! Not only is he a good writer, you’ll get a glimpse of M.K. life from his perspective, both the challenges and the triumphs.

And when you’re done reading and voting, pause and pray for him and for missionary kids around the world.

Because they are awesome!


My name is Stephen Gracza and I am a American missionary kid living in Budapest, Hungary where I was born. I have been integrated into the Hungarian cultural and educational systems since Kindergarten. At home I speak English with my family, but everywhere else I communicate in Hungarian.

Growing up overseas has enriched my life in many ways. Being bilingual since childhood has enabled me to live in two cultures at the same time, American and Hungarian. Europe is made up of many different cultures and traditions. Most European countries share a border with at least three or four other countries, which impacts their individual countries and communities. Due to the number of languages spoken in Europe, students are required to learn two foreign languages during their high school years. This has given me the opportunity to become conversational in German and Spanish.

I have visited Finland, Germany and Spain with my Hungarian high school through participation in student exchange programs. These experiences have greatly improved my foreign language skills. My parents work has allowed me to see all of Europe. I have met people from varied ethnicities and religious backgrounds. It has given me a broader view on life and the people who live around me, enabling me to be sensitive of their needs and traditions.

In general, European opinion of Americans is that they have been granted more possibilities in life and have an easier road. I have had to forge my own way and be determined since I was little to work against this negative stereotypical thinking. In Kindergarten my teacher did not want me to take part in our class play, because she believed I had an accent. In Junior high school I was given fewer opportunities and then told; “You are American and Hungarians have fewer opportunities in life”.

I have had to be dedicated and determined to be granted the same possibilities. I have grown firm but not aggressive. I am currently my class’ Vice President, my high school’s student body representative and team captain for both my school’s men’s Field Hockey team, and Track and Field team.

I feel that struggling against the preconceived understandings about Americans has enabled me to cultivate a lifestyle of tolerance and determination.


Click HERE to vote!

Voting ends June 30, 2014, so please don’t put it off ’til mañana.




Making the Most of Your Mission Trip – Tips to making your cross-cultural experience a success.

(I originally wrote this article for Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership.) ??????

You’re investing thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and numerous headaches in planning a missions trip. You hope to save the world (at least the corner you’ll be in) and return with photos, stories, and unforgettable memories of souls you’ve touched.

Nothing surges global vision in your church like team members returning from a cross-cultural experience with changed lives. Nothing snuffs the passion for global outreach in your church like a team returning with complaining, irritated members.

What makes the difference? Having been on both sides of the experience, first as youth pastors leading teams and for the past sixteen years as missionaries receiving teams, there are specific keys we’ve learned that lead to success.

The first key is to get lost.

Not physically, of course, which parenthetically could lead to quite the adventure, but rather in humility, from yourself. Think Jesus. He allowed himself to be emptied of power, glory, and royalty before crossing cultures from heaven to earth. Initially He came to love and be loved; He came to learn and be taught.

Losing our will, desires, and ego to God before our passports are stamped is the foundation for the following tips:

Be Flexible

Tolerance for ambiguity allows us to persevere when criticizing or running away is what we would prefer.” Duane Elmer

Limber up your attitude and practice smiling (a lot) because I guarantee this: you will be stretched! Everything which makes you comfortable will be different. Your modus operandi will do the splits. Schedules can change; plans may modify. Things out of your control will happen.

We were two days away from receiving a church construction team when we received notice that the legal paperwork for the property fell through. Quite the shock, since we repeatedly had asked the local leaders if all legal documents were in order and repeatedly were given a resounding “yes”.

Furthermore, we were mortified when told the trip would have to be cancelled. Rather than facing the loss of thousands of dollars invested in plane tickets and construction materials, not to mention the confidence the team had placed in us, we scrambled to reroute them to another project in a city five hours away. Everything that had previously and painstakingly been set in place (hotel, food, transportation, and schedule) was changed.

The outcome? We had a fantastic week of ministry, work, and relationship building. The key was that both we and the team chose to be flexible in the midst of upheaval.

Have a Servant Mentality

Mission…must take the form of servanthood. Only in this way can it escape the charge of arrogance.” G. Thompson Brown

See yourself with a towel draped over your arm, regardless of who you are or what you do.

A missionary wrote about a team of doctors on a missions trip who complained that too many patients were showing up, that they were working too many hours without having enough leisure time, and they made faces at the food they were served. They also called the local pastor’s wife a liar and pouted when they didn’t get exactly what they wanted.

Do you smell the arrogance and see the irony? The ones supposed to heal the sick and bind the wounded instead spread disease and inflicted injury with their self serving attitudes.

To have served humbly would have quenched their incessant demands. In the end, the pain experienced by the nationals remains greater than any good that occurred.

Bathe The Trip in Prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Don’t forget to pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to preach…”  Colossians 4:2,3 NLT

More than a suggestion, prayer is a necessity on so many levels: spiritual anointing, physical protection, emotional endurance, mental strength, and team unity.

The most fruitful teams we’ve led and received have been teams dedicated to prayer and fasting, both before and during the trip. Also having a support group interceding back home while the team is on their mission is vital to the work.

The God in whose name you travel gives numerous examples in His Word of what occurs when we meet before his throne. From Moses’ intercession in Exodus 17 to James’ reminder of the effectiveness of the righteous man’s prayer, we can be assured God hears and moves in response.

Learn to Adapt

No matter how adept an exegete a theologian is,…it is all for naught if he does not understand his contemporary audience.” Dallas Willard

Jesus had thirty-plus years to grow in his surroundings; you’ll have one, maybe two weeks. How are you supposed to adapt in that short time? You won’t, really, but something that can help, in addition to the previous tips, is trusting your host and/or the nationals with whom you’ll be working. Take cues from them and it will go well with you.

Investigating the culture and specific people group before you go will also be a great asset. You won’t learn everything, but you will have opened the door to understanding, an important aspect of communication.

Taking a missions trip can and should be a positive experience. Following these tips will aid you towards that goal. Your investment of time, money, and planning can reap lasting rewards for yourself, for your team members, for your church, and for eternity.

You are my servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 40:9,10 NIV

Leaves and Changes


How I admire the changes of autumn, the loveliness of leaves.

How I dislike the changes of my life, the lostness of leaving.

Leaves and changes are seasonal. For the trees and for my life.


I’ve left a home and changed location eighteen times since I’ve been married. And I struggle to find the strength and beauty in each transition…for I feel weak and ugly, tattered and worn, inside and out.

Then I look at the leaves so graceful, adorning their branch through the warmth of sunshine and the onslaught of storm. Their season is short, and the time draws near. The change is seen; from the outer edge it’s color transforms. Because something is taking place on the inside.

Their full change is imminent. Then, one final wind, a soft spiral down, and their life is over.



But there is next year. Trees will bud and blossom, leaves will appear, and their purpose and beauty will again be appreciated.

In looking and admiring, an analogy concocts. With every change, my self must die. Beauty in process.

To be awe-inspiring, and simply inspiring. Breathtaking, and inviting.

Begin, it must, from the inside out.

Till I can admire the loveliness of change in every leaving – a purpose, an appreciation, blossoming in every season.




Memories: Instant in Any Season

Memories, as Barbara Streisand sang years ago, light the corners of my mind. Yet they do so much more being embedded in my heart and soul.


We have returned temporarily to the United States where most assume we are now contentedly relieved in this “comfortable home country” of ours. True to a degree, but truer still is the pungently bittersweet fact of the transition.

I love being with our three young adult sons again, other family and friends, the house God provided for us, and the anticipation of many things, but I miss the people, the relationships, the village, and our ministry in Oaxaca. As I sit here with carpeting under my feet instead of cold tile floors, towering oaks instead of lofty cypresses, and a flat view of sky outside my window instead of a full mountain range, the memories come; some with a smile, others with a sigh, and a few with sorrow.

From our ministry blog, a recent and fond memory:

May 7, 2012

Hosting a missions team recently, we committed to minister among remote indigenous communities in Oaxaca’s coastal region. The plan was to offer a VBS during Semana Santa (Easter break) to two distinct communities. Palm Sunday was to be the kickoff service, with the entire church participating, then Monday through Wednesday would be kids only.

We arrived in good time on that hot and sunny Palm Sunday morning. While our team, together with the nationals, reviewed plans and resources, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper, “Prepare a message.”

I confess I don’t like public speaking or preaching to a crowd. Not a few times have I quipped, “My husband preaches from the pulpit, I preach with a pen.” I prefer less painful events like women’s Bible studies, visiting homes, natural child-birth, writing articles, or having a root canal.

I groaned inwardly.

As a veteran missionary, I should have known better, should have expected all along that the pastor would ask someone –in this case, me, since hubby was off working construction with another portion of the team– to preach to the adults. After all, it is Sunday morning, and though the churches “in the city” may kick off VBS with everyone together in the sanctuary, this traditional pastor would see to it that his adults received a sermon.

Within ten minutes I had a brief outline scrawled in the small notebook I always carry, and torn paper to use as bookmarks for the passages that I (or rather, the Holy Spirit) had picked.

Within fifteen minutes the pastor arrived, walked over to me and said, “Hermana, would you bring God’s Word this morning to the adults?”

I did. Outside under a mango tree that randomly dropped its fruit, I preached to the standing gathering of a dozen or so adults. We had four languages represented: English, Spanish, Zapotec, and Mixteco. I included salvation testimonies –which were powerful– from two of the team members.

Later that day, after we drove an hour to the second church plant of the same pastor, he again invited me (unplanned, but not unexpected this time), from the pulpit, to please come up and share God’s Word.

I did. Inside under a single lightbulb that hung three feet over my head and was swarming with wasps, I preached to the seated audience of another dozen or so adults. I used the same message and the same two testimonies.

Glory be to God! That day four adults prayed for forgiveness and committed to follow Christ, neither a mango fell nor did wasps sting, and this impromptu preacher experienced again the mercy and mysterious power of her Lord.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phil. 4:13