Pause with Jamie and Jessica Dunning

Friday, January 2, 2015

A new year begins. Let’s continue learning from one another about life, about change, about risks, about faith.

I’ll select this interview as our opening blog for 2015. Jamie and Jessica Dunning are missionaries. They think global while caring for the nearby. They’ve taken risks while remembering what matters most. Read Jamie’s thoughts and see what you can learn from their experience:

Chris: Tell us about your life as a missionary.

Jamie Dunning: To be honest, life as a missionary isn’t all that different from any other job or ministry. Of course, as a missionary there are a lot of adjustments to make. You have to adapt to a different culture, learn new customs, convert to a new currency, grasp new languages, develop new driving habits, explore new culinary options, and modify your general way of life, but ultimately, most days for me are similar to the days of other people. You start each day with responsibilities and tasks that need to be completed, and you do your best to live each day well. Our first 5 years in Kenya, we served as bi-vocational missionaries and our primary focus was serving at Rosslyn Academy, an incredible Christian International School in Nairobi, so our weekdays were typical 9-5 workdays. On weekends and holidays, we focused on our outreach and humanitarian ministry. We were involved in the service and support of several orphanages, church schools, feeding programs, and church ministries around Kenya, ministries that were offering the love of Christ to their communities in tangible ways. Our work with these ministries led us to make the transition to career missionaries. When we return to Kenya we will serve as People to People coordinators, supporting feeding programs through child sponsorship. Our focus is to better equip Kenyan churches and ministries with the tools needed to effectively reach and meet the needs in their communities, through sustainable development, micro-finance loan programs, and developing income-generating projects.

Chris: What inspired you to pursue that career?

Jamie: That one doesn’t really have a simple answer. When I was a student at Emmanuel College I had the opportunity to go on several short-term missions trips. I will never forget my first trip to Peru in 2000. From the minute I stepped off the plane, I knew that my life would never be the same. On that trip the Lord began to deal with me about the inequality that exists in our world. There is a great divide between the rich and the poor, and we all know it, but for the first time in my life I really saw it. In the slums surrounding Lima and in mountain villages located in the Sacred Valley, I encountered poverty in a way that I had never truly known. What I saw in the faces of orphaned children, widowed mothers, and poor farmers, caused my heart to break. I was made acutely aware of the injustice that exists in our world. Jesus words in Matthew 25:40 began to echo in my ears. This was the beginning of, what I believe, was a call to serve the Lord by serving those that are most affected by extreme poverty. But at that point it was only a whisper, a whisper that began to change my perspective and priorities. It caused me to view the world, and my role in it, differently. It was a whisper that led me to view my relationship with Christ differently and led me to pursue Him more passionately. But it was only a whisper, and at that time I had no idea what it meant. So the following summer I returned to Peru, and the summer after that I went to Kenya for the first time. Through the experiences I had on these trips and the people I met, that whisper grew louder and more audible. For the next several years I was constantly looking for ways I could contribute, causes I could support, issues for which I could be a voice, anything to respond to that whisper I heard in my heart. After graduation I began teaching, and the door opened for Jessica (my wife) and me to lead short-term mission trips for students from Emmanuel College. On each of these trips that whisper turned into a voice, and it became clearer and more distinct. My passion grew stronger and deeper. While in Kenya in 2007, leading a short-term trip, a door was opened when we discovered Rosslyn Academy. We knew that we were being led there, so in 2008 we moved to Nairobi, Kenya. During the years that followed, God really began to give us a clear vision of how we as a couple, with our unique giftings and talents, were called to share His love by serving those that live with the reality of poverty. That whisper became a definitive voice that was calling us to devote our lives to service. I think that is the most concise way I can answer that question. Of course, Jessica would probably answer this question a bit differently. God has a way of working in each of us uniquely, but often with the same result.

Chris: In my book, Pause for Pastors, we encourage ministers to not forget God, themselves, and their families. How can you and other missionaries find that healthy balance?

Jamie: Finding a healthy balance can be extremely tough for all of us. It is so easy to pour yourself into your job or ministry and neglect other areas that are very important, like personal and spiritual growth, overall health, and family. For me, it is essential that there be clearly defined distinctions between ministry, personal and spiritual growth, and family. Each day I have to set aside time for prayer, study and reflection, and also have to make a point to have voices that are speaking into my life. Whether it be podcasts, conversations with friends and colleagues, or reading articles or books that challenge and encourage me, it is essential that I am always listening and open. It is also very important to me that I find time to exercise and be active, at least several times a week. Many of us sacrifice our personal health because we feel we have more pressing things to attend to, but we have to make an effort to take care of ourselves. As far as family, it can be dangerously easy to focus all of your energy into reaching out to others that sometimes you forget to reach into your own home. I have seen so many pastors, missionaries (and other professionals) focus so much energy on winning at their ministry or job, but they lose their family. I remind myself every day that I have not only been called to serve others, I have been called to serve my wife and children. Marriage and Fatherhood are the most important callings in my life.

Chris: As a husband and dad, how do you live that out?

Jamie: In our family we make a lot of effort to share time together each day. We have daily routines that we try to honor and keep as consistent as possible….reading together, playing together, nightly devotions, meals…things that bond us and make our family time a priority. I strive to make the most important items on my agenda each day the areas that Jessica, Sophie, and Ethan need me. Of course, I am not always the father and husband I want to be. I get distracted and can be selfish, or can be extremely focused on other things, but it is an area I try to always be mindful of. I want to serve others and reach others, but not at the risk of neglecting my own family. One thing we also try to do is to look at our ministry as a family ministry, which it very much is. Jessica and I are partners in our ministry, each having different roles, but we also try to include our kids by taking them along when we visit projects and churches, giving them opportunities to serve, including them in planning, and allowing them to be a part of what we do. Of course, we have to be safe, and there are times when it is isn’t wise to take them along, but it is very important to us that they know that they are a part of what we do, and that we are all in it together.

Chris: What spiritual practices help you “pause” and notice God’s wonder nearby?

Jamie: I am trying to develop the discipline of saying a prayer every time I encounter something especially beautiful. Whether it be a natural wonder, witnessing an act of kindness, or the laughter of a child, it isn’t difficult to find beauty around us. In the book, Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius teaches that as followers of Christ we should be contemplatives in action, always seeking to find God in all things. Often we are so focused on our activities, responsibilities, ministries, and general pace of life, that we forget to pause. We forget to be aware of the presence of God around us. We fail to recognize that, according to Paul in Romans 1:20, the eternal power and divine nature of God can clearly be seen in the things that He has made. I recently wrote about an experience I had on Mt. Sinai in Egypt, where God made me especially mindful of this truth (

I have also found that I greatly benefit from using liturgical prayers to guide my prayer life. There is something powerful about praying prayers that have been prayed for centuries, and knowing that believers all over the world are joining together in prayer. I use Sacred Space, a prayer guide developed by the Irish Jesuits, as well as The Lord’s Prayer, The Prayer of the Trinity (N.T. Wright), The Prayer Covenant, The Common Book of Prayer, and others, not as standalone prayers, but as guides to direct my prayer time. This practice helps me stay focused and truly engage in my prayer life.

Chris: Help us think globally. How is God’s love being displayed around the world?

Jamie: God’s love is best displayed when His followers embody that love, and share it with others. I have been fortunate to live overseas for several years and visit many countries, and regardless of where I find myself, I always encounter Christian brothers and sisters living lives that spread God’s love. In Kenya, specifically, I am always humbled by the generosity and sacrificial service of the believers there. Many of them have very little, in a material sense, but they freely give what they do have to help their neighbors that have even less.

Chris: What other advice can you offer us in this world of hurry?

Jamie: Be patient. We aren’t conditioned to wait for things. We live in a society that is all about convenience and instant gratification. But there are times, inevitably, that we are forced to wait, and we don’t like it, or at least I know I don’t. I find that in my relationship with the Father, I am often required to wait and to be patient. Whether is waiting for direction, for a promise He has made to be fulfilled, or for guidance, there are seasons in life that we are simply required to wait and trust in the plans He has for us. I have a tendency to want to rush to the end point, but I have found that those times of waiting are often the most important moments in the journey. God uses those moments to prepare, develop, and mold me for the moment He has planned. I look back on my life and I know that had I jumped on a plane after graduation and moved to Kenya, I would have failed miserably. I would have had a lot of passion with no direction. As difficult as it has been at times, God was preparing me and teaching me to be patient and teaching me how to trust him. He was leading me to this place. For me, that is part of what it means to pause. It means to stop and turn our attention toward Him. It means to patently wait, to live in this moment, and every moment with Him.

Along the way,
Chris Maxwell

Pause: We taste. We swallow. We are washed clean. What does that mean in this context of contemporary needs and community faith? Jesus and the disciples experienced their elements in their common meal. He took the normal and made it historical. In their ritual, a world renewal was about to occur. (Pause for Pastors: Finding Still Waters in the Storm of Ministry)