Two seasoned Alliance leaders reflect back on faith, calling, change, cross-cultural realities, and what’s really important in the end.View Transcript
– [John Stumbo] Hello, Alliance family. Two of our trusted leaders in Alliance Missions are about to retire. Today, I wanted to capture their wit and wisdom for us. Be enlarged and inspired as we participate in an interview with Jim Malone and Mike Sohm.
– [Jim Malone] I would never have chosen to be the assistant vice president of Alliance Missions if I didn’t have to. Not that it was bad; it’s just like, well, it was never within my thought to do it. And yet, the Lord led me along the way, and I was prepared for it, and I enjoyed it for 16 years. I’ve helped give oversight to Europe and Middle East, to Asia-Pacific, and also to Latin America previously. Prior to that, I worked in Taiwan for 20 years, and then prior to that, I spent some time as an assistant pastor for four years. So total, I think it’ll be 40 years of ministry within the C&MA.
– [Mike Sohm] Years ago, I was an assistant pastor in Burnaby, British Columbia. Then we went to Thailand as missionaries and served there for seven years, and I was our regional leader for Asia-Pacific islands, then moved into an assistant VP role for four years. Then, I went to Crown College, and I was executive VP in Student Development—did that seven years—and now I direct CAMA Services, and this is my ninth year.
– [Jim] I graduated as a chemical engineer and was working for Dow Chemical. I was living in the Bay Area at the time, so I got involved in a couple of cross-cultural ministries within the city and just kind of got experience, particularly in evangelism. I came to the decision I needed to go to seminary. I started to meet guys from The Alliance who were at seminary. My background, even though it was Presbyterian, was so much like The Alliance—it just kind of was family. So, I fit right on into it. I thought, “Oh, this is for me.”
– [Mike] So, I came to faith just before college started, working in a factory, and a guy led me to Christ that summer who was involved with The Navigators student ministry. So, like from day one, boom, I’m in a Bible study. I’m out on campus doing evangelism. I’m leading evangelistic Bible studies. The Navigators is a pretty disciplined bunch, which is ironic compared to who I was at the time. But God has a sense of humor; it was very good for me. But I noticed in maybe the second semester, that I started to have such an interest in getting to know students from Iran and Taiwan, and I would spend a lot of time with them and had the privilege of walking with one Iranian student to faith in Christ and discipling him and sharing. So, I would say that was what really got me going, and then on Alliance Youth Corps—I’d just turned 21, and here I am, I had barely been out of Minnesota, and I grew up in a very Caucasian environment, a rural community. So, I’m in Thailand, and I’m on the border, and I’m watching how the local authorities treat Hmong refugees. Hearing their stories, I think that was the beginning of my understanding that the gospel has to touch the whole person. It has to address the dignity, the worth of the individual, their safety, their well-being. If it doesn’t touch those things, you know, why would I listen to that message? Now, when you combine meaningful impact on a person’s life in a tough place with words of hope, and that’s really coming out of who you are, not just some rote thing, it’s really impactful. You know, you see the persons coming to faith in Christ and connecting the dots why you do what you do, and they become advocates for what you do; sometimes they join us in our work, and that was kind of the beginning.
– [Jim] When we first joined, we were still focused on these responsive peoples of the world—Latin American and Africa and even in parts of Asia—churches were growing, and we were trying to just establish those churches so that they could be self-sufficient and move on on their own. And the focus now is really least-reached, the places that are the hardest parts of the world. I think sometimes it’s hard because we don’t realize that in those places that we had such great harvest, there were 30, 40, 50 years of hard labor in those places where there was very little responsiveness. Unless somebody crosses cultures intentionally to share about Jesus, they’re not gonna hear. Eternity’s not only determined, but their present life is not any better either. Jesus is the one that brings us health and happiness and life even in the midst of very difficult situations. And a lot of these folks are living in very difficult situations; and I don’t understand how hard it is, but I do know Jesus walks with them, and they need the opportunity to choose. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what we have to do.
– [Mike] The complexity of what people face today is much more. I mean, I think you need to be pretty savvy, understanding what war has done, the movements of refugees. But I think one of the things that maybe we haven’t recognized is that challenge is an opportunity and that it is for partnering with people from all these different countries. As Americans, we are taught to be very independent, and we’re pretty, you know, ethnocentric. But the challenge for us is not to shed our core identity, rather to shed some of the things that are impediments to the gospel and to enter in much more fully with people from the countries where we serve and people from large Alliance World Fellowship churches that have come to that same place. I think that is one of the keys to moving forward, but that takes a lot of growth as a person. If you’re not, you know, multicultural in your thinking and have some fluidity that way, it’s going to be quite a stretching experience for you. I mean, coming from a very sheltered, narrow way of thinking to going to Thailand, it was quite the kick in the seat of the multicultural pants, you know. I can just see the graphic now for that, you know this little foot that just keeps going up: “Yeah, that’s a kicker.”
– [Jim] The most unique thing for me was when I started working in Latin America. Now see, I’m an Asian; I was grown in a Chinese culture where nobody touches anybody. In Argentina, everybody kisses everybody, and it’s either one cheek or two cheeks. The men kiss each other, and it’s like, “Don’t get close to me; I’m an Asian.” And they’re always coming up and wanted to kiss. So, I had to really put on my cross-cultural big boy pants and learn to kiss in greeting to all these folks in Latin America.
– [Mike] Little foot that just keeps going up: “Yeah, that’s a kicker.”
– [Jim] I just kind of had to kind of steal myself initially to figure out how I was gonna do this.
– [Mike] I learned a tonal language, and I learned early on that I needed to get over myself and all the mistakes I was making. And my mentor, my senior leader, Glenn Lewis, just said, “Mike, have some fun.” He said, “You’re like free entertainment for these people. You’re the most enjoyable thing that they’ve heard in months when you go out in the villages and you’re practicing your little spiel and all that.” He said, “Just let ’em enjoy it, and they’ll help you improve, you know, your language.” So, I am practicing for this prayer, I’m gonna give my first formal prayer, and I wanted to say, “Oh God, You who are the greatest above all gods.” So that’s, (speaking in foreign language). So “ying” is a falling tone, but I changed it to a rising tone, (speaking in foreign language). So, what I said that day is, “Oh God, You who are the largest woman in the universe. I mean, like the biggest,” you know. And I can hear the snickers out in the audience—people trying not to laugh and kind of shaking, laughing, you know that experience you’ve had. So, I’ve got dozens of those, literally dozens. So, that’s all you’re getting on that one.
– [Jim] I think I went out thinking I would do one thing, and I ended up doing another. I mean, I thought I was gonna be a church planter for most of my life in Taiwan, and I did that really only two years of my time in Taiwan. I spent more time in Bible school, which was not my choice. I was assigned to it, but that turned out to be a real blessing ’cause I got to speak into young people’s lives, and all of those young people now are senior leaders of the Taiwan Alliance Church Union. So, that’s exciting about that, and I ended up in much more administration than I thought I would ever do, but I got to walk with missionaries along the way, whether they were in Taiwan or China or in each of those regions I worked with. The thing I have enjoyed most in my time has been Strategic Reviews. We do a Strategic Review of every field and team, in aXcess particularly but now also in Envision, every five years, and it gives us an opportunity to just kind of step into the situation to review where we’re at and look forward. The reason I enjoy it is: one, I hear stories; two, I get to speak into the strategies directly. I’ve seen the Spirit move in very unique ways within that to bring us together and to bring about some good changes as well as some good affirmations about all that God’s at work.
– [Mike] If you haven’t come to that crushing place to come to the end of yourself and realize, “I can’t do this,” and know what it means to be not just full of the Holy Spirit as an experience and a sense of relief and release, but a daily walking that way—”the exchanged life,” some people call it—A., you’re not gonna make it, and B., if you do make it, you’re gonna be one grumpy, grouchy person. So, white-knuckling in the faith is not a good way to go, but we need to talk a lot more about what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit, yielded, confession of sin. We need to be more comfortable with that and owning stuff.
– [Jim] God’s call grows and it changes, and I thought the call was to do church planting in Taiwan. Ultimately, the call is to serve, but in that process, He led me along the way; He prepared me, and I’m glad—I don’t know that 40 years down the way I would be where I am now. It would have been scary ’cause I wasn’t prepared for that information now. But I’m glad that God faithfully walked me through, gave me the experiences I needed to do, gave me the opportunities to minister in places that I would never have dreamed of, and I’m grateful that He just used me in all of that process.
– [Mike] When I started in ministry, there are some things I wish I knew then that I know now. I think the first thing—I wish I knew and really believed how important people are, as against policy. Policy is designed to answer the majority of questions. It’s kinda like your FAQ. It’s not really very well-nuanced. It never was intended to be. I wish I had been more flexible with people and focused on their development because in these decades, I now have seen where I invested in a person and really developed them or I got ’em connected with another resource, networked them—you know, wow, what an impact. It has multiplied itself over and over in their lives. I wish I had done that more and more often.
– [Jim] This is Moses in Deuteronomy as he begins to kind of rehearse the history of Israel to them. This is what Moses says to Israel, and this is I think true of me: “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He’s watched over your journey through the vast wilderness. These 40 years the Lord your God has been with you and you have lacked nothing.” 40 years of ministry within The Alliance, the Lord has blessed the ministry that He’s given me. The Lord has been with me. He’s journeyed with me, and I’ve lacked nothing, and in fact, been so blessed by all that God’s done in and through me. It’s just been great.
– [Mike] I’ve had the privilege of serving in some unique places and some unique roles with some amazing people from many different countries. I mean, who gets to do that, right? Not a lot of folks, and I think the Alliance family’s made that a possibility for me, and I’m very, very grateful to them.