Two Author Tuesdays in a row …what is this? Friends, I’ve got some EXCITING things on the horizon that I can’t wait to tell you about soon, but for now, I’ve got another book for you! Ryan Kuja is a friend from the internet (which really is one of my favorite and most awkward ways of introducing people). His new book, From the Inside Out, is a must-read for anyone who’s involved in some capacity with missions. Do check out what he has to say and leave a comment to win a copy of it!
Ryan, tell us a bit about yourself, will you? I’m a global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development and have lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents. I have a MA in Theology & Culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and a BA from University of Vermont. I’m also a spiritual director and writer, currently living in Medellin, Colombia where I’m in the role of Field Director with Word Made Flesh, an international development and advocacy organization.
Let’s talk about your book: what, in a nutshell, is your book about anyway? From the Inside Out weaves together stories from my own experience living with marginalized people around the globe with biblical/theological reflection, psychology and spiritual formation. It challenges many widespread misconceptions of cross-cultural ministry and invites us to awaken to a fresh and liberating engagement with God’s redeeming work in the world while offering a new way forward marked by memory, mysticism, mutuality and imagination.
As I said, the book integrates different disciplines—mainly theology, psychology and spirituality. Interdisciplinary thinking is necessary in engaging complex problems and is often the only way sustainable solutions can be found to the pressing issues of our time. For example, when we press far enough into the realm of theology, we invariably end up in the realm of psychology, because we reach the arena of human depth (the soul, emotions, existential questions etc.). In this sense, the theology that informs mission and cross-cultural ministry is intimately linked to mental and emotional concerns—not necessarily “mental health” or psychopathology, though it could be that, too. In the book I tell the story of serving as an aid worker in South Sudan while having undiagnosed PTSD and how that impacted myself and those I was hoping to serve. I also tell the story of a physician I met in Haiti whose arrogance and ego motivations led to less than ideal outcomes for himself and the community, despite the best of intentions. Theology, psychology and ministry can’t be partitioned; they are distinct aspects of the single missiological endeavor.
Do tell, what was the inspiration behind it? In a word: story. My story. Before beginning to write the book, I had lived overseas for several years in South Sudan, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique, India, the Caribbean and Europe. I had worked on a variety of international relief, development, and mission projects and at a point everything came crashing down. My whole life collapsed: mental/physical/spiritual health, understanding of my vocation and what it meant to serve the materially poor in difficult contexts. The bottom fell out, and that forced me to go inside myself, to enter into a long, arduous process of questioning my old assumptions and beliefs about everything. Eventually, I came to a point where I knew I needed to go to seminary to have the context in which to go deeper theologically, but also the psycho-spiritual side as well. Naturally, I chose a seminary whose very name offers a glimpse of what they are about and what I was seeking: The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. There, I was able to deepen my personal, interior journey while also engaging mission and cross-cultural ministry from an academic perspective. From the Inside Out began to take shape as I worked on integrating my personal narrative and experiences working overseas with theology and missiology. The seeds of the book were planted through doing this work of integration.
How do you hope readers will be changed by your words? A huge paradigm shift is underway in how the West engages in mission and cross-cultural ministry. My hope is that the book will contribute to this shift in consciousness that is upon us collectively, and as a result help others come to embody the gospel across the street and across the globe in more beautiful ways. I hope the book will invite readers into knowing themselves and their stories more intimately, to come to deeper awareness of the generativity we gain through robust theological, spiritual, psychological, and intercultural formation—both personally and in our ministries.
Serving across the street or across an ocean isn’t about showing up and being a hero. Often, Westerns expect to get off a plane somewhere and change things. But as Fr. Gregory Boyle says so well, if you want to save people, join the Coast Guard. This work is not about saving and rescuing. It’s not about the so called “whole” condescending to the so called “broken. What is it about? Mutual transformation of self and others in the context of community—because that is the center of the gospel.
I hope the book invites readers into treading more deeply into the confusing, scary territory of their story, their hidden motivations for doing this sort of work, the ways the Western church has gotten mission and development wrong, and how we can collectively enter into a new missional era.
Lest we forget to ask, how have YOU been changed by writing the book? As I say in the first chapter, I wrote the book to invite others into seeing mission with transformed eyes. But I also wrote it for myself. In many ways, the book is a culmination of the missionary call I first felt when I was about 7 years old. I needed to write the book—or, perhaps, it needed to write me. Whichever it was, the process became an integral piece in coming to terms with my own disillusionment, pain, and the shattering of the dreams of the 7 year old boy who believed he was meant to be a healing presence among the economically marginalized. The book allowed me to process the hard questions, the failure, the mythology of missions, the white savior mentality, the colonial imagination—everything I—and the majority of Westerners—was captive to, things that smelled more of North American evangelical culture than of Jesus.
Writing From the Inside Out helped me both deconstruct the old paradigm and also begin reconstructing, finding new ways forward both for myself and for the church. The dream of the 7 year old boy lives on, gratefully. But without wrestling and living the hard questions and putting all of this into a coherent, publishable writing project, that likely would not be the case.
How and where can we find you on the internet?
YouTube: book trailer
So, does the book sound like your cup of tea? I like to think of it as a necessary second read to Jamie Wright’s The Very Worst Missionary ….albeit with a completely different flavor altogether. Leave a comment for Ryan and tell him WHY the world needs his book, and in doing so, you might just win a copy of From the Inside Out. Contest ends Friday, June 22nd – head over to Instagram on Thursday for more chances to win as well.
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