Category Archives: Writings

Review of my book in EMQ

Last weekend I came across another review of my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives. It was written in the January 2017 edition of the missions journal Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ).

You can read the review below, written by Dr. Ed Scheuerman, professor at Lancaster Bible College:

 

—Reviewed by Ed Scheuerman, professor of intercultural studies, Lancaster Bible College

Living among nationals is not enough to accomplish the goal of gaining acceptance in order to share the gospel. The missionary needs to seek to ‘become native.’ Drawing upon his ten years of living in China, Tabor Laughlin’s primer highlights the challenge of crossing the line from being among to living with those God calls the missionary to serve. He additionally calls the reader to “build deep relationships with them and to be intentional to share with them the gospel” (p. 8).

This short book (just 71 pages) is in three sections: (1) principles, (2) practices, and (3) take away. Each of the seven chapters ends with a few practical questions. The primary benefit of this book is its practical suggestions in such areas as language learning, food, dress, and identity among the local community. Laughlin wisely stresses the need for integrity in areas such as one’s visa.

The author seeks a level of acceptance where, “They will no longer see us as an outsider” (p. 37). But I don’t know that this will be entirely possible. Personally, one of the best days of my life in China was when I was told that I was “just like a Chinese.” I knew that this was a statement of acceptance but that I would never truly be Chinese.

Another slight concern is when Laughlin writes, “In such instances, when we realize that it’s actually our home culture that does things weird, not the new culture, maybe we should consider adopting the local custom” (p. 42). Neither needs to be “weird,” just different. We need to guard against making value statements (in either cultural direction) when customs are simply different. But the main point of adopting local customs is advisable.

Referencing Romans 14, the author wisely exhorts the reader to consult local believers when seeking to decide what would be a potential stumbling block for both believers and unbelievers in the local culture. “May the Lord grant you his wisdom in such cases,” he writes (p. 43). Laughlin similarly makes strong value judgements about children’s education and a wife’s language learning. “For her, studying the language should never be a higher priority than taking care of her family” (p. 58). I understand his intent here, but I would caution against imposing a Western value—in this case, of how one prioritizes family life. While I would not advocate imitating the family life of William Carey, I also don’t want to impose my Western understanding of family uniformly on everyone. The concern here, as with attempting to follow presumed “biblical standards,” is the need to recognize that how we interpret the Bible is also done with a cultural lens.

This book will serve well as an introduction for those about to get on the airplane to go overseas. But it can also serve as a challenge for all Christians to increasingly and appropriately seek to be in the culture in which God has placed them, regardless of their here and now.

Review of my Book in Southern Seminary Journal

There was a review of my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives in the Southern Seminary journal Towers last summer. I actually didn’t know this review was written & nobody told me about it. I just stumbled upon it earlier this week when browsing the Southern Seminary site.

 

Or you can read it below:

Review by Annie Corser

In Becoming Native to Win the Natives, SBTS alumnus Tabor Laughlin (pseudonym) speaks to Christians about missions in other cultures and nations. The book’s biblical foundation pulls from the Great Commission’s call to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth and make disciples, and Revelation’s display showing that heaven will be filled with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

“This book is not about how to preach the gospel in a cross-cultural environment, nor how to build deep relationships with those around you. It is just about the aspect of becoming like the native in all other aspects of life,” writes Laughlin.

Laughlin focuses on the characteristic traits needed for successful ministry: humility, service, love, and a burden for those you serve. With practical advice, he explains how to adopt cultural traditions not contrary to the Bible, like language, hobbies, and appearance.

A New Review of my Book

Yesterday there was a review of my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives in the Journal of Global Christianity, which is published by the organization Training Leaders International.

Here’s the link: http://trainingleadersinternational.org/jgc/81/becoming-native-to-win-the-natives-cross-culturally-becoming-all-things-to-all-men

The book review was graciously written by Jackson Wu.

 

Or you can read the book review pasted below:

For new missionaries, Tabor Laughlin’s Becoming Native to Win the Natives is a must read. His book has the rare combination of being practical, relevant and readable. Although a short text (just under 70 pages), Laughlin’s work is packed with counsel that only comes from years of experience.

Section One addresses issues related to one’s perspective and heart. In the second part, Laughlin talks about matters that every missionary faces. These include language learning, assimilating into the local culture, one’s appearance in the local community, and managing family life. Finally, he ties it all together in a concise conclusion.

Laughlin’s book is practical without becoming overly pragmatic. He specifically addresses the daily tasks that make up the missionary life. He equips and encourages readers with realistic expectations. Laughlin gives no space to idealism or abstraction. Instead, one finds advice that is immediately actionable. His stories draw from personal experience and so demonstrate what it might look like to “become native.”

Having served many years in China, Laughlin is able to offer counsel that is relevant to missionaries in every context. By contrast, other authors settle for mere principles in order to reach a maximum audience. Laughlin concludes his chapters with multiple questions that guide readers in application. These questions stimulate personal reflection and will direct missionaries as they consider the practical steps they need to take in order to flourish in their ministry. I envision many veteran missionaries also using Laughlin’s book to train, encourage, and mobilize newer workers.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is its readability. Given its short length, the book is a quick read. Laughlin writes in simple prose. He does not include a lot of technical terms and concepts that would otherwise confuse readers unfamiliar with missiological jargon. His tone is conversational and his message is clear.

Some might complain about the book’s brevity. I, for one, tend to steer away from such short works. Laughlin certainly could have said much more. However, he has spent much of a decade training newcomers to the mission field. As a result, his aim is simple: to write a brief text that people will actually read amid the stress of transition, language learning, and culture shock. In fact, readers will find more substance in this resource than is often found in much larger works.

I heartily recommend Laughlin’s book for anyone who wants to become native to win the natives.

My article today on Desiring God ‘Scripture Memory Made Simple’

Today I had an article on Desiring God. The title is ‘Scripture Memory Made Simple’.

Here’s the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/scripture-memory-made-simple

 

Or you can read the article below:

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we do have a lot of downtime in each day that we could be using to feed our souls. Often, we spend our spare minutes during the day doing other things like watching TV, playing on our phones, or surfing the internet. Maybe some of us are not seeing the spiritual growth we want because we don’t see the free minutes here and there throughout our day as a gift from God, but rather as a time for entertainment or productivity.

If you think about it, the accumulation of spare moments in our days quickly adds up. Getting dressed, eating breakfast, waiting at the bus stop, walking to class, waiting for the start of a meeting — usually our minds are unemployed during these moments, or occupied by social media. But for those who are looking to “make the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16), there is a means of grace perfectly suited to these short pockets of time: Bible memorization.

Ten Minutes for Treasured Truth

Ten years ago, when I worked as a teacher in China, I decided to take advantage of my free time throughout the day by memorizing Bible verses. I’d write a verse or a passage on an index card and pull it out throughout the day whenever I wasn’t doing anything else. In just a few years’ time, I had memorized over a thousand verses from God’s word — whole passages and even chapters from the Bible were locked in memory and doing their work in my heart.

To this day, I would count those stacks of Bible verse index cards among my most valuable possessions. I take them with me and still use them every day.

I’ve found that whether one spends lots of time in Scripture memory, or just a little time, it is always an incredibly valuable thing to do. It’s easy to consider our short breaks in the day to be “our own time” to relax or surf the internet or watch TV. While these are by no means bad things, we should weigh the value of these activities against the great gift of time to learn God’s word. I can assure you, whether you can invest ten or fifteen minutes each day into Scripture memory, or longer (or shorter) than that, any effort we make is time well spent.

For while rest and recreation have some value, memorizing Scripture has value in many ways. For example, here are four practical benefits of Bible memory:

1. We meditate on God’s word.

When we have the Scriptures hidden in our hearts, if we are regularly reviewing and learning them, we make the truth of Scripture available to our minds all throughout the day. We can be sitting anywhere, or doing anything, and suddenly turn our minds to think about Scripture that I’ve memorized — we can meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2).

2. We fight sin and resist the enemy.

The Scripture tells us that we should hide the word in our heart that we might not sin against God (Psalms 119:11). Paul says we must take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This sword of the Spirit is what we use to fight the battle against Satan and against sin. Bible memory means we’re always armed.

3. We get a deeper understanding of the Bible.

This is a huge benefit of Scripture memory. By memorizing many verses covering the whole Bible, we gain a much better understanding of the Bible — not only in small segments, but also as a whole. I’ve found that I can recall key things about all books of the Bible from the top of my head. The more of God’s word we take in, the more we can see its architecture and design when we go to read it.

4. We are equipped for everyday life.

It’s often incredibly handy to be able to have Scripture “within reach” without pulling out our phones or opening our Bibles. We could be doing many things, like encouraging someone in our church, praying alone or in a group, preparing for a sermon, sharing the gospel with an unbeliever, writing someone an email or a paper or a book. Even with the modern ease of looking up info on the internet or on our smartphones, it can never be more convenient than knowing by heart the exact verse that you want to use whenever you want to use it.

Not Effortless, But Priceless

I encourage the readers to put in the time necessary to memorize Scripture. None of that time spent will be spent in vain. It may sound intimidating — just like learning anything, it doesn’t happen naturally. But it does happen simply. And the time you spend will be of great benefit to you and your life.

If you’re not memorizing Scripture right now, or even if you’ve never memorized a verse in your life, I’d encourage you to try with a simple goal of one memory verse every week or every two weeks. Do your best, not simply to memorize as much as you can, but to retain what you’ve already learned. In almost five years, I haven’t learned any new verses, but I still have hours’ worth of material to memorize every day, simply by reviewing. In this way, Scripture memory can be a lifelong means of God’s grace that will benefit you your whole life.

my article this week on Desiring God ‘Lay Aside ‘Lone Ranger’ Ministry’

This week I had an article on Desiring God titled ‘Lay Aside ‘Lone Ranger’ Ministry’

Here’s the link:

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/lay-aside-lone-ranger-ministry

 

Or you can read the article below:

As we ministered in our first city in eastern China, doing outreach to college students, our missionary team saw significant fruit among several students within our first year. What caused it to grow?

It was indeed the Lord who caused the seed to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6), and looking back, I also can see how the Lord made us his means and blessed our team with a tight bond. Not only were we close, but a lot of our time with the students was spent together as a team. We were intentional to spend time and minister to students not just individually, but also as a group.

For example, my friend Eric was ministering to a Chinese student named Jordan. He would get lunch with Jordan and talk about the gospel, among other things. Afterward, Eric and I would discuss how it went and pray for Jordan. Some other time, I would go get coffee with Jordan and talk about all kinds of things, but I’d also try to be intentional to share spiritual things. Afterward, Eric and I would pray.

Eventually, by spending time with different Christians individually and together with us in groups, Jordan became more interested in the gospel, until he believed. To this day, he continues to grow and persevere in that faith.

Partnering with others in gospel outreach can be powerful and effective. And we find that shared outreach is a very common model in the Bible.

They Shall Know by Your Love

A big part of our testimony to the lost is not only our words to them, but also our deep love for other believers. Jesus himself says in John 13:35 that “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So, a huge part of our witness is how we love other believers. But if we are doing ministry on our own, it provides no opportunity for people to see our love for other believers and how we interact with them.

If we are committed to only doing outreach by ourselves, how will unbelievers see how we love each other? Certainly we need to proclaim the gospel through our words. This is vital, but it’s just one part of our witness. The other part of our testimony, biblically, is the conduct of our lives, including our love for other believers (Matthew 5:161 Peter 2:12). If we truly, selflessly love those in the church, others outside the church can see that and consider how this love may be unique to the Christian community. They may think this love expressed among believers as strange and be incredibly curious about the reason.

Jesus Sent Them Two by Two

In Luke 10:1–24, Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples in groups of two. One possible reason for this is so that they could hold one another accountable to the task at hand. If Jesus sent out seventy-two lone-ranger evangelists, it would be much easier for them to compromise the mission. But if they’re sent out with others, they can remind each other of their call and purpose, and encourage one another in times of discouragement and wandering.

Another possible reason why Jesus sent out the disciples two by two is for increased gospel witness. One person sharing a testimony can have great power, of course. But of even greater power is a complementary testimony coming from two or three people. One person may have a particular background or testimony that can hit someone with the gospel in a different way than another person who has a completely different background or testimony. The hearers can get multiple perspectives on the message, rather than just one.

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). In this place, Jesus is referring to acts of judgment within the church, following the Old Testament requirement of multiple witnesses to a charge (Deuteronomy 19:15). Nevertheless, it is easy to see how this principle applies more broadly to gospelwitness.

The testimony of two or three witnesses about anything is much more reliable and trustworthy than that of one witness. One person could just be confused, lying, or crazy. But having multiple people sharing a common testimony of truth is much harder to reject and brush aside. So when we are the only ones witnessing to someone about the gospel, it is quite a difficult task. It is much better to partner with another to deliver the gospel message with greater power and breadth.

Apostolic Ministry

Paul had a similar approach in ministry. Typically he was doing ministry together with others. Even when he was in prison, he often had other brothers with him. As he traveled on his three missionary journeys, he was not only traveling together with others, but also doing ministry with them.

On his first missionary journey, Paul — possibly one of the greatest evangelists of all time — did not go alone. In Acts 13:1–3, we see that the Holy Spirit himself told the church in Jersusalem to set apart both Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabs ministered together in Iconium, “speaking boldly for the Lord” (Acts 14:3). They are not only in the city together, but they are boldly proclaiming the gospel together. This is just one of many examples in Acts of Christians sharing gospel ministry.

Feel the Freedom of Mutual Ministry

Once we see what the Bible says and shows about doing ministry together, we should be intentional to put it into practice in our lives. Consider cooperating with others in your church, or small group, to evangelize together, working together with other Christians in your neighborhood to try to reach your neighbors, or when possible, partnering missionaries with other missionaries on the field to minister to the local people.

Here’s a call to embrace the wisdom of the Bible in place of our own individual efforts and work with Christ’s body to make disciples both at home and among the nations, for his glory and the increase of our own joy (Philippians 4:11 Thessalonians 2:193 John 4).

new article on China Source – ‘Language & Culture Learning — in Kindergarten’

Today I had an article on China Source titled ‘Language and Culture Learning — in Kindergarten’.

Here’s the link:

http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/from-the-west-courtyard/language-and-culture-learning-in-kindergarten

 

 

Or you can view the article below:

Education is a major issue for cross-cultural workers who serve overseas with their families. Most families choose to put their kids in an international school, a local school, or to homeschool full-time at home. All of these have their pros and cons.

Last year we decided to put our daughter in a local Chinese school. Here are some of the benefits we see in this choice.

Families we respect who were living in other cities and had put their children in Chinese schools for a while talked highly about it. They told us that sending kids to the local school would help them learn the language quickly and to make many local friends. When our daughter was born, we planned to do the same.

For the past year our daughter has been attending a nearby Chinese kindergarten. She started going to the kindergarten shortly after her third birthday. Though most of the other kids, beginning at age three, go to school all day, we wanted our daughter to go only for half-days.

Our daughter’s overall experience in the Chinese school has been great. She absolutely loved the school at first, but after about a month the school started calling us to come pick her up and bring her home. This lasted for a few weeks, but when her teacher told us that she’d been throwing temper tantrums at school we disciplined her at home. She soon stopped throwing temper tantrums at school and started enjoying it again. Now going to school is one of her favorite things to do.

Because she’s so young, she’s been able to pick up Chinese rather quickly—even though she’s only at her school in the mornings and has been going for less than a year. Before she started kindergarten, I’d try to speak to her in Chinese at home. While she could understand a bit, she would hardly use Chinese to respond to me or to others. Now that she’s been at the Chinese kindergarten for almost a year—communicating only in Chinese with her teachers and classmates—she’s able to converse easily with people in Chinese.

In the Chinese culture, it’s important for children to show respect to the elderly by saying “hello grandma” or “hello grandpa” to them when walking by. Our daughter has seen this modeled at her school, so it’s now very natural for her to greet elderly people while walking down the street. Sometimes she will have lengthy conversations in Chinese with people of many ages who live in our neighborhood.

Our daughter has made many friends at her school. Her teacher said that she was able to learn all of her classmates’ names, even though all of them are Chinese names and our daughter was only at school in the mornings. As I look with her at a picture of her whole class, she can tell me all the kids’ names with minimal difficulty. Every day when we pick her up or are at home with her, she tells us stories about what happened to her classmates at school that day. With some of the kids she has built a particularly tight bond.

When our daughter interacts well with the people in our neighborhood, it opens up many doors for us to more easily gain the trust of the people in our community. And our daughter is happy as she walks around chatting with neighborhood kids, parents, and grandparents. Everyone is excited to see her acting like one of the neighborhood girls. Indeed, the reason our daughter feels so comfortable interacting with our neighbors is because she has been going to the local Chinese school. If she weren’t going every day to the kindergarten, I think it quite unlikely that she’d feel so at home with the people around us.

We are blessed because our daughter has done well at the Chinese school. However, all thanks must go to God for helping her daily to do well. The glory goes to him, not to us. And because of our daughter, we have been able to walk through doors opened more widely into our community to serve. When she interacts well within the local culture, people notice. As a result, they are more interested in our family, our parenting, and what is important for us. We can share with them about how God is the anchor and center in our lives.

Today I had another article on Desiring God titled ‘Free at Last’

Today I had another article on Desiring God titled ‘Free at Last’.

Here’s the link:

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/free-at-last

 

 

Or you can view the article below:

Free at Last: My Surprising Liberation from Porn

Like far too many young people today, my adolescent eyes found pornography too early and too often. Soon the allure of cheap and easy pleasure constantly haunted me.

My struggle intensified in middle and high school when my mom’s health faltered. I turned to the empty promises of pornography to try to fill me up and help me cope.

Even after I became a true follower of Christ in college, I continued to struggle with sexual sin. My porn and masturbation patterns fueled impure relationships with girls. I tried to make headway fighting these sins, but I seemed stuck.

I felt trapped. I felt helpless.

Slave to Sexual Sin

Romans 6:6–7 declares that believers have been set free from sin and are no longer slaves to its power. But even as a believer, I felt enslaved to the master of sexual sin. Even if I could fight those sins off temporarily, it seemed like only a matter of time before I would give in again. My inevitable failure was constantly looming over me.

Fighting began to seem futile because any so-called victory was short-lived and soon would be overcome by my own sinfulness.

I shared my struggle with close friends who also were struggling, and we tried to hold each other accountable. But this just didn’t help me overcome my sins. Nothing seemed to work.

I needed a miracle.

A Breakthrough I Didn’t Expect

Then, ten years ago now, God worked a miracle in my life. He purged me of those sins in one day and has changed my life significantly since then.

I was back in my hometown for the summer after my first full year living in China. Although I was growing in my faith and serving as a missionary, I still struggled with the same sexual sins. And I still felt a heavy weight on my soul from those sins.

I had a good high-school friend who had become a believer at the end of college through an older fraternity brother named Jay. That high school friend came over to my house and brought Jay. A few nights later, Jay invited me to a nearby guys’ prayer night.

I attended the prayer meeting with Jay and a few other guys. We were praying in the hallway together, and I was confessing vague struggles. Jay stood up and interrupted me mid-prayer. He asked me to share more specifically about my sins. He said I should pray them aloud to God and to the other guys. Then Jay quoted James 5:16: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

And that’s what I did.

In that moment — with a knot in my throat, feeling exposed — I knelt on the ground and confessed aloud in great detail my past and present sexual sins both to God and the other guys there. And they prayed for God to completely cleanse me of those sins.

I had made similar confessions before without having any transformation. But for whatever reason, God chose to do his miracle for me on that day. At that very moment, God took away my struggle with those sexual sins. For a while, I was haunted that I eventually would stumble back into sexual sin, but it didn’t happen. God gave me victory and has kept me from pornography and masturbation for over ten years.

One Prayer Broke Through

As John Piper has said, “I cannot tell you why a prayer that has been prayed for ten years is answered on the one-thousandth request when God has met it for the first 999 with silence.”

God met my thousandth prayer (so to speak) and unleashed a power that broke a deeply ingrained pattern of sin in my life. As a result, I was no longer weighed down by a constant feeling of slavery to sexual sin. God freed me, and I was able to focus more of my energy on pursuing and loving him. It was a huge turning point in my life. God also used that event to prepare me for marriage three years later. I was free, and so was my wife — I did not carry the baggage of those sexual sins into my marriage.

As I think about that day ten years later, I am incredibly thankful to God for his mercy. I wonder why it was that day in particular that God cleansed me, and I wonder why he chose to cleanse me at all. Since then, I’ve prayed for brothers for the same cleansing, but it hasn’t happened to the same extent that it happened with me.

God’s sovereign timing, of course, is key, and James 5:16 give us another factor to ponder. The verse not only speaks about praying for one another so that we can be healed, but the second part says, “The prayer of a righteousperson has great power as it is working.” I am not saying that Jay was perfect, but the person praying is a factor to consider. I can say that when Jay prayed for my cleansing, he legitimately believed that God would answer his prayers. He wasn’t just saying the words for show. He genuinely believed that God was listening to his prayers and would answer them. Such faithful intercession for others is a great example for all of us.

What About Today?

Whatever the explanation is, God freed me from a heavy burden on that day. When I think about obvious experiences in my life that clearly prove to me God’s existence and the power of his Spirit, I think about my liberation. I fought for so long to try to cleanse myself. And my efforts were mostly futile. For years, my prayers seemed to be met with silence. But in one moment — after countless pleas — God chose to do the miracle.

My experience often reminds me of how I should honestly and humbly confess my sins before God and others. I also should believe that God may want to cleanse me in a moment of certain sins with which I struggle even now. And I must not be afraid to boldly and faithfully pray that he would heal others around me.

Perhaps today is the day to pray that one-thousandth prayer for yourself or someone you love.

John Ensor’s Review of My Book

Written by John Ensor about my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives

As someone who loves working cross-culturally, and who wants to see more and more Christians do the same, I am thankful for this missions primer. The insights are basic. But that is what makes them good. The people I have taken with me to do missions work need basic starting points and specific examples of how to love and powerfully identify with the people they come to serve. Laughlin shows how he intentionally did this over many years. He is a first-rate practitioner. I will use this book to prepare the people coming with me to do cross-cultural work. The cause of missions starts with loving the people you come to serve and to be like them. Laughlin helps us get started. [See Ensor’s original book review here].

 

NOTE: John Ensor is: President of Passion Life; the author of several books; and had a well-known interview on Desiring God with John Piper and Christian rapper Lecrae [see here].