The Worst Brand Ever

By Rev. Brady Wisehart

Dying to live

I was greeted this morning as I sifted through my inbox with an email titled “We can HELP your Church’s brand” sent from a church branding company. I had not solicited help form this company and I was about to move the email to the trash folder when I paused and was captivated by the following thoughts… 
What is the brand of the church? Not just my local church but the Church of Jesus Christ. Is there a difference between the brand of the broader Church of Jesus Christ and my local church? Have we in western culture elevated our local church brands above the core brand of Christianity? 

My thoughts were not debating denominational distinctions, or dumping on marketing or branding as tools. My thoughts were quite the opposite. I believe denominations are helpful to the Body of Christ, and I believe that the greatest news in the world, the gospel, is worthy of our best efforts to communicate as effectively as we can. 

Marketing consultants tell us that your brand is very important. It’s what tells the story of the core of your message. It’s what you present to the marketplace as who you are, what you are all about, and what you have to offer. 

For centuries, the brand of the Church of Jesus Christ was embodied by the cross. Atop of a cathedral or a country church the branding was consistent, a cross. For centuries, the image of the cross has been universal. Not limited to one culture but around the world the cross communicates the message of Christianity.

But think about that with me for a moment. The core branding image of Christianity is an execution device. Can you imagine a marketing consultant encouraging your institutional identity to be an electric chair? Welcome to our Church, the church of death! Yet this is the message! When Paul says “I did not come to you with persuasive words of wisdom but…I preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2-4) The message of the cross is one of death to sin and life in Christ (Eph. 2:16; Heb. 12:2; 1Cor. 1:17-18; Gal.511-14; Phil. 3:18).

It is in the death of Christ that we find freedom from sin and life in Him. This brand of the cross is not just a symbol of what Christ did for us. Jesus clarifies the message when He says “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) Jesus calls us to choose. When I choose to accept Christ by grace and faith alone I walk with Him as a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Apostle Paul writes, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21).

That’s a lot of death talk for a core brand. I can see how some may be tempted to “refresh” the brand and give a lighter spin on the message. But Paul helps us in Galatians 2:21 see that if righteousness could be gained some other way other than Jesus, then Christ died for nothing.

In short, a “refreshed” or “touched up” brand, sanitizing the uncomfortable parts of the message and replacing them with a more “crowd friendly” narrative is not only dangerous but completely undermines the entire gospel. Leaving us with a “product” that is powerless. 

I came across this graphic today depicting how the Apostles died. Suddenly it hit me, they lived the brand! They all gave up their life for Christ. This was not just a testament to their devotion to the brand, but more so… they “lived” the brand in their deaths. 

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While I’m not suggesting God is calling each of us to be physically martyred for our faith in Christ, I do believe the core brand is clear. Through the cross I find life in Christ. When I am in Christ the old has gone and the new has come. Truly following Jesus leads us to a dying out to self and sin. To the point… If you are not ready to die, you are not ready to truly live. 

Are you a Christian? Are you a true follower of Jesus Christ? If yes, are you living the brand of the cross of Christ? Or have you drifted into a fixation with your own unique niche articulation of your preferred “idea” of Christianity? Has your faith become more focused on your preferences, your interests, your agenda? Has there been an erosion of the call Christ gives to love Him so much that by comparison it’s like you hate everything else? (Luke 14:26)

I have amazing news for you friend! There is no better way to live than to die! When we allow Christ to save us from our sinful selves, when we allow the power of His spirit to lead us to crucify our desires so we can embrace the desires of God… We start TRULY LIVING! The old has gone and the NEW HAS COME! 

10 Things I’ve Learned From Difficult People

By Steve Dunmire

When I first went into ministry, I was warned that, as a pastor, I would have to deal with difficult people. But I was not prepared for how venomous they could be at times.

I have been on the receiving end of vindictive anonymous letters, berating phone calls and accusing rants. I’ve watched too many difficult people literally storm out of the churches I have served (not to mention their passive aggressive behavior, sarcastic remarks, cutting jokes and backhanded compliments).

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But I’ve also learned a lot from difficult people. Here are a few of the lessons they have taught me:

1. Difficult People Have the Nerve to Say What Everyone Else is Thinking.

Sometimes (not always) difficult people are the people who say to your face what others will only mutter under their breath. They are sometimes the only ones who have the nerve to say what everyone else is thinking. Difficult people can be the pastoral equivalent of when a physician orders blood work for a patient: an efficient way to find out what is going on in the church’s bloodstream.

2. Difficult People Help Me Develop Thick Skin.

Dealing with difficult people is one of the most effective ways to develop the thick skin a pastor needs in order to be fit for ministry. There may be no other substitute. Dealing with difficult people is to our souls what weight training is to our bodies, so I have learned to love difficult people because they make me stronger.

3. Difficult People Reveal My Insecurities.

Difficult people force us to face up to our insecurities and our need to be liked. They force us to choose the need to be firm on some issues over our need for acceptance. Their criticism strikes at the lie that the Enemy has planted in our hearts: “This is who you really are, and all the nice things people say is just them being polite.”

Difficult people and critics in our lives can be like carnival mirrors who criticize an exaggerated and distorted version of ourselves. We recognize immediately that the distorted image is not who we are—and this can provide for us the opportunity to look at our lives and see ourselves as we really are.

4. Difficult People Make Me Clarify What I’m Doing.

Just as one out of tune string on a guitar can force us to retune all six strings, one difficult person in a church can prompt us to clarify everything we do. They force us to make things clearer and more precise because of their complaints and sometimes in anticipation of their complaints. In this way, difficult people make our ministry better because they force us to be clear and precise about what we want to do, and how we are going to do it.

5. Difficult People Show Me I Am Doing Something Right.

There is a common strand running through every major turning point of ministry, every breakthrough, every visible success, every time I could point to measurable results, or even every time I received some level of recognition. The common element in each of those things is the pestering presence of difficult people who opposed me every step along the way. I love people difficult people because they are one of the most reliable indicators I have been able to find to tell me that I am doing something right.

6. Difficult People Create Supporters.

A pastor needs meaningful friendships in order to endure. And in my case, some of my most meaningful partnerships and friendships in the ministry have been forged in response to the difficult people in a church. At times I have seen people become much more vocal supporters of me as a pastor because they have seen a critic’s harsh attack. I am grateful to have several significant friendships that were forged in direct response to difficult people.

7. Difficult People Make Me a Better Boss and a Better Subordinate.

Difficult people have helped me to see how important it is to recognize good work, applaud hard work and express appreciation. They also help me to see that not every opinion needs to be expressed. On the whole, I would like to believe that I am less critical of those who serve above me because of my experiences with difficult people.

8. Difficult People Drive Me To Prayer.

I wish this was not true, but it is. And if difficult people drive me to my knees in prayer, then I know they are a great gift. A.W. Tozer writes, “Whoever defends himself will have himself for his defense, and he will have no other. But let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God Himself.” Difficult people drive me nuts, so they drive me to my knees in prayer, and that is one of the reasons I have learned to love them.

9. Difficult People Are Not an Obstacle to Conquer.

I once heard someone give a sermon about Eliab, David’s older brother, who burned with anger against David when he was asking the men about Goliath (1 Samuel 17:28). The pastor pointed out how David had to choose in that moment to press on to defeat Goliath, or stop to fight his critics.

Critics are neither an indicator of success nor failure, so I have chosen in advance to battle giants, not critics. I have learned to love difficult people because loving them is an option. I do not want to be remembered as the man who triumphed over his critics; I want to be remembered as the man who triumphed over giants.

10. I Am Someone’s Difficult Person.

I know I have been a difficult person in someone’s life. Sometimes I appear difficult to another person because of a disagreement, sometimes it is just because of a personality conflict, and sometimes it comes with being a person in leadership. But I have learned to love difficult people because loving them is a way I can do unto others what I would have them to do me.

Learning from difficult people and learning to love them is still a work in progress, but I hope that someday I’ll be able to truly love difficult people as God loves difficult me.

This article was originally posted at SteveDunmire.com.  Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/10-things-i%E2%80%99ve-learned-difficult-people#tUIcsOltP9IqbjMq.99

Dangerous Holiness Prayers

By David A. Gallimore

Several years ago I was on a personal journey for more of God.  I was hungry for a fresh Word.  While reading Psalm 139:23-24 one day, I discovered what I call “5 Dangerous Prayers” that have literally revolutionized my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I have prayed these prayers every day for the last 20 years and it has been an incredible ride.  However, let me warn you…these prayers are dangerous!  They will mess you up!  I say that in the “best” of ways. At the end of the day these prayers will produce a fully sanctified and surrendered life.

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DANGEROUS PRAYER #1:  Search Me

Picture yourself going to the doctor and getting on the examination table. You put yourself in a vulnerable position where the doctor can perform the examination.  You give up control, privacy, etc.  It can actually be an uncomfortable experience.  Would you be willing to get on God’s examination table and say, “I give you permission to search every area of my heart, mind and soul?”  

DANGEROUS PRAYER #2:  Break Me

I must confess when I first prayed these prayers my attitude was cavalier at best:  “Go ahead God…search me…I think I’m doing pretty good.  I’ve grown up in the Holiness Movement.  I know how to do church the RIGHT way!”  I had no idea what I was in store for. I started praying these prayers and God started breaking me of what I will call for lack of a better term, “spiritual pride.”  I began to realize new growth comes when old habits and attitudes are broken.  To say it even stronger…there is room for repentance even in the saved and sanctified life.

DANGEROUS PRAYER #3:  Stretch Me

When I first began praying these prayers God led me out of a very comfortable pastorate into a cutting edge multi-cultural church that forever changed my perspective of ministry.  Hymn books were replaced by Hillsong, suits and ties were now shorts and tee shirts, and testimonies changed from “I’ve been saved and sanctified for 50 years,” to one innocent but enthusiastic biker who shouted from the altar to a packed congregation, “this is the greatest day of my life…God just saved the Hell out of me this morning!”  Was I ever being stretched out of my comfort zone!  I had the privilege of baptizing 50 new converts one Sunday.  Three women approached the baptistry in two piece bathing suits!  I got all mixed up.  I’m thinking to myself “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” what am I going to hold on to!  We got on the phone in the church office on Monday morning and ordered baptismal robes.  That took care of that problem.  Watch out when you pray these prayers.  

They’re dangerous!

DANGEROUS PRAYER #4:  Lead Me

King David prayed “lead me in the way everlasting.”  For the past twenty years I have prayed that God would daily lead me out of my comfort and safety zones into a life of radical obedience.  After serving the church as a pastor for many years, God called me into a fulltime itinerant ministry of evangelism.  I tried to reason with God about this…it’s not 1950, most churches do not have revival meetings anymore, we will starve to death!  I ran the numbers on the calculator and they did not add up, but I kept praying these prayers.  Lead me Lord…I’ll follow.  We took this huge step of faith and left the security of a great church that was taking wonderful care of me and my family and we found that when you trust and obey, God always provides.  For the past 10 years I have averaged preaching 45 evangelistic meetings a year here in America and abroad.  What I’m saying is that you can trust God with your life.

DANGEROUS PRAYER #5:  Use Me

When all is said and done, has your life counted for the Kingdom’s sake?  The mantra of this world is “he who has the most toys at the end wins.”  My prayer for you today is that God would deliver us from the wisdom and ways of this world and that we would be willing to live fully surrendered lives that say “I am available today God…lead me to the person who needs you most and use me to be a winning witness.”

Would you be courageous enough to pray these five prayers every day?  Remember the disclaimer…the fine print…they are dangerous, but they have the potential to radically revolutionize your life.  May God bless you as you start the adventure.

This article was originally posted at Holiness Legacy.

Mission Briefing: Contextualization

By Howard Culbertson

When believers from one culture introduce the “unchanging gospel” to people of another culture, how do they keep the Good News from being dismissed as a foreign import? The short answer is one word: Contextualization.

When Christianity moves from one culture to another, there is danger that it will be thought of as belonging in the first culture, but very much out of place in the second one. The chances of that happening can be lessened if the Gospel will be proclaimed and lived out in culturally understandable ways. That process of meaningfully connecting biblical revelation to a specific culture is called “contextualization.”

Missiologist Darrell Whiteman said it this way: “Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context.”

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Having the gospel “make sense” to people of a culture does not, of course, mean everyone will rush to embrace it. People must decide if they are willing to make the changes necessary for Jesus to be their Savior and Lord. That does not mean, of course, that people must abandon their ethnic or cultural identify to follow Jesus. Authentic contextualization is based on the premise that when people allow Christ’s transforming power into their lives, they will be even better Nicaraguans or Japanese or Bulgarians or Navajos than they were before.

Contextualization does not mean robbing the Gospel of its essence or “watering it down” to make it more palatable. On the contrary, good contextualization renders expressions of the “unchanging Gospel” more faithful to Scripture than they would otherwise be. Holy-Sprit-led contextualization allows Scripture to be as powerful and transformative in each cultural context as it can possibly be.

Proper contextualization moves gospel proclamation past a sense of foreignness to allow each people group to hear God say: “This is my design for you.” Contextualization allows people of a culture to see that Yahweh, Creator of the universe who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, loves them and wants a relationship with them.

In tangible terms, contextualization involves the wording of theological expressions as well as things like sermon illustrations, music styles, artwork, decision-making, lifestyle choices, church programs and schedules, modes of preaching and teaching, the process of discipleship, evangelistic outreach, leadership selection and even architecture.

It must be clear says missions professor Zane Pratt, that the ultimate purpose of contextualization “is not comfort, but clarity.” Thus, authentic contextualization does not involve the softening or white-washing of Jesus’ radical commands. Indeed, contextualization enables the Gospel to be offensive to each culture for exactly the right reasons. Whiteman has said that good contextualization makes sure that the Gospel “engages people at the level of their deepest needs.”

Authentic contextualization must travel on two rails. One rail is an unwavering faithfulness to Scripture. The other rail is that of communicating and living out the Word of the Lord in ways that are familiar to people in a particular cultural context.

This article was originally posted at: Engage Magazine

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

4. Discover Your Calling – Then Be Good at It

Every leader and church needs to discover who you are and what you’re called to do. Then, do that and be that!

Giving people something worth committing to isn’t a matter of competing with the big church down the street. It’s not about offering nicer facilities, bigger events or even better preaching. It’s about discovering what God has called you and your church to be great at, then being great at that.

Excellence isn’t limited to churches with big budgets.

There’s no excuse for second-rate. It costs no more time or money to do it right. It just takes a full commitment.

5. Don’t Just Talk – Hang Out and Listen

No one wants a relationship in which one side does all the talking. We have TV and movies for that.

But even TV and movies are giving way to social media. One of the best parts about watching a show that has some social media buzz is chatting about it on Twitter and Facebook as it airs.

People want to engage with others, not just sit passively while someone else talks.

Sadly, the church does not have a reputation of being open to dialog – or to hard questions. And definitely not to criticism.

No, you don’t have to turn your sermon into a discussion group (although, some churches do that with great success), but there needs to be an easy and obvious way for people to engage, dialog, chat, hang out and feel like their life and their opinion matters.

And leaders, especially pastors of small churches, need to be engaged in those conversations. Listening, participating and learning, not just teaching.

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6. Keep Learning and Getting Better

I communicate, minister and lead much differently today than I when I started in pastoral ministry 35 years ago. In fact I do it differently than I did just ten years ago. And I expect to change at least as much in the next five years.

I now have over 30 years of ministry experience in addition to my formal ministry training. But that experience matters less today than it ever has. If I’m not constantly learning, listening and growing, I’ll fall behind very quickly.

But that shouldn’t intimidate us. Learning and growing is Discipleship 101. It’s central to being a follower of Jesus, let alone a church leader.

Jesus never made discipleship easy. He always inspired people to a bigger commitment by calling them to a greater challenge.

Too many leaders limit the expectations they have for their members to sitting in a pew and filling gaps in existing ministries. We think we can’t ask more of them because … well … they’re not even doing that!

But a lot of uncooperative church members and recently unchurched people aren’t as disinterested as we think. Like some of the rowdy kids in school, they’re not skipping class because we’re asking too much of them. They’re acting out because they’re not being challenged.

People are deciding that leaving church is better than being bored in church. I don’t blame them.

If we don’t challenge people through a genuine experience of worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry, they’ll do one of four things: 1) go to a church that challenges them more, 2) go to a church that entertains them better, 3) show up physically, but disengage in every other way, or 4) stopping going to church entirely.

People want to go to a church where they’re challenged by something bigger than themselves and where their gifts are being used to further that cause.

If you ask small, you’ll get a small commitment. Ask large and your joy might be full.

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 1 of 2

By Karl Vaters

People who don’t go to church, don’t want to go to church. They’re not rolling out of bed late on Sunday morning wishing they had somewhere more churchy to be.

In fact, a growing number of people who do go to church don’t want to go, either. If we don’t give them something worth committing to, they’ll be gone soon.

It’s not that people are less capable of making commitments than they used to be. They just commit differently. But too many churches haven’t caught up to that reality.

So how do we get people to commit to the church / ministry we lead? Especially when our church is small and struggling?

I don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned a handful of principles over three decades of ministry that have helped our church become a place people are excited to be committed to.

These steps won’t cost you any extra money and very little extra time – the extra time because of the learning curve. It’s not about adding to your already limited schedule and overtaxed budget. It’s not about doing things bigger. It’s about focusing on doing church better. Working smarter, not harder.

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Where Our Focus Needs to Be

But first, despite the title of this post, the challenge before us isn’t about getting people to go to church.

It’s about inspiring people to commit to

•Worshiping Jesus

•Genuine relationships with God’s people

•Making disciples

•Doing ministry for those in need

If your focus is trying to get people to commit to your Sunday service schedule, your denominational preference, maintaining your church building or anything like that, you might as well stop reading right now. In fact, you might as well close your church right now.

The days of people going to church for anything less than a genuine relationship with Jesus are over. Yes, there’s still a residue of those people, but they’re dying out – literally. And they won’t be replaced by a new group. Nor should they be.

But if you want people in your church because you have a passion to help them connect with Jesus and God’s family, read on.

1. Clear Away Anything that Isn’t Jesus

If people continue to go to church, it won’t be because they feel a sense of loyalty to a tradition most of them have never had in their lives to begin with. And it won’t be because they want to be entertained. They have better entertainment on the phone in their pocket than we can ever compete with.

The only thing that will get them out of their house and into our churches is if we give them a cause worth living (and dying) for. Namely, an authentic presentation of the gospel of Jesus – through our words and our lives.

If your generational traditions or your hip, new staging helps people do that, great! Keep doing it. But if not, don’t let your church’s personal preferences keep people from seeing Jesus.

Whether he’s hidden behind stained glass windows or laser lights and fog machines, anything that obscures Jesus instead of revealing him needs to be ditched.

2. Emphasize Relationships Over Spectacle or Tradition

For small churches especially, being a church that people want to commit to starts and ends with relationships.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other. Then work together to build bridges with those outside the church walls.

Long after our traditions have grown stale and the spectacle has been replaced by a bigger show somewhere else, genuine relationships with Jesus and people will last.

3. Be Genuine

People are far less naïve than they used to be. They can spot phoniness in people very quickly.

This is especially important for church leaders, because we have a culture in which respect for leadership is lower than it has been in a loooong time – and mostly for good reasons.

Respect doesn’t come with the position of pastor or leader any more. In fact, it’s more likely to be viewed with skepticism than honor. That skepticism will only be overcome by practicing what we preach.

This article will continue in the next post.

15 Things I Want To Tell My Third Culture Kids

By Rachel Pieh Jones

I get to visit two of our Third Culture Kids in four days. And then in eleven days they will be ‘home’ for thirty days. Life is good. Until forty-five days from now. No, it will be good then too, just quieter and slightly more teary.

Part of me hesitates to hit the publish button today, it feels private. Is the internet the place for these things? But part of me thinks I’m not the only parent overwhelmed and honored and pumped up about raising TCKs. And this part of me wants to acknowledge that alongside other parents and our kids and to share in all the emotions of it. So here is some of what I want to say, and have said, to my own TCKs…

  1. You are the coolest kids on the planet. You cliff-jump and climb up and then down into active volcanoes. You flew internationally on your own before becoming a teenager. You sleep under the stars on the beach and know how to pee on a toilet or in a hole or behind a bush or where-there-is-no-bush.
  2. I know it is hard. I watched you, proud and teary, the first day of school when you didn’t know how to count to ten in French and on the first day of school in America when you didn’t know how to eat lunch in a cafeteria. I see your moments of hesitation when kids talk about something you don’t understand. I saw your shoulders droop that day you wore your traditional Djiboutian dress to church and then, once you saw how other kids were dressed, asked if you could take it off. I hear all three of you refer to a different place as home. 
  3. I don’t know what it is like. I know what it is like to parent a TCK but I don’t know what it is like to be a TCK. I’ve read books and listened to talks and attended seminars but you are forging a path I have not walked. I’ve got your back and I’ve got a box full of Kleenex and an ache in my belly from our shared laughter. I do not know what your particular journey is like but I will hold your hand, fierce, until the very end. 
  4. I am sorry for the things this life has taken from you. The names of all the friends you have said good-bye to are branded in my mind. Grandparents and cousins at your birthday parties and school events. The feeling of belonging to a specific place, house, culture, language. A mom who can be a parent chaperone without having an accent. Sports and musical and academic activities at which you naturally excel but will never fully experience. 
  5. I am thrilled for the things this life has given you. Adventure and a wide-cracked-open worldview. The opportunity to trust God when nothing around makes sense or when everything around makes sense. Friends all over the world of diverse faith and languages and skin colors and food preferences and economic levels. Multiple language fluency. Creativity and the intrinsic ability to look outside the box, to see from another person’s perspective. Real gratitude, stemming from an understanding that things are fleeting, gratitude for relationships and for time spent in togetherness. Adaptability. Courage. Courage. Courage. 

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  6. I want to hear from you. Tell me how hard it is, tell me the things you love, the things you wish were different, the things you would never change. I need to hear from you what it is like, I need you to be honest with me about the goods and the bads and then I need you to let me hold you. And I need you to hold me. 
  7. I cry for the choices we’ve made. And then I defend them with passion. It isn’t easy to parent a TCK, or any kind of kid, and I have wept tear-stains into our couches and our pillows and the shoulders of dad’s t-shirts. Sometimes I wonder if we have been crazy or irresponsible. But then I look at you and I cry again, good tears, because you are beautiful and complicated and deep and these choices have been part of forming you into you. 
  8. You are strong. You’ve been through evacuations and international moves and medical crises and hellos and goodbyes. You have tried new and scary things. You have laughed and cried but I haven’t heard you whine and complain. You have more than embraced life. 
  9. You are unique. No one else in the world has your story. And yet, you are part of an amazing community of people with stories similar to yours and stories different from yours, whom you can listen to and learn from. An oldie but a goodie. 
  10. You have built awesome memories. Remember the time you camped at Arta Plage and the flood came and the French military rescued you? Remember the time you carried baby God through the neighborhood in Balbala, head of a train of singing and clapping families? Remember meeting the Harlem Globe Trotters?
  11. You have grief. And that is okay, mom and dad are not afraid of it and we want carry it with you. 
  12. You are creative. 
  13. You are empathetic. 
  14. You are wise. 
  15. I am beyond proud of you.

You know that book, I Love You to the Moon? Well, I love you to Somaliland. And Kenya. And France. And Djibouti. And Minnesota. And anywhere else. And back.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.djiboutijones.com/2013/03/1-things-i-want-to-tell-my-third-culture-kids/