Bible Project has been a tidal wave of blessing to this world and one of the Bible Project’s key visionaries is Michael McDonald. Sometimes it takes a rough childhood, and the longing of a young boy to find a father figure, to inform his global focus and mindset. Changed by the love of his Father, he grows up to be a world changer, albeit imperfect. Michael McDonald is currently the Bible Project Director of Global Focus and Strategic Relationships in Portland, Oregon. His story to get there is rare, and is a beautiful global adventure we are invited on. It is so easy for our homes to be self-focused and American-focused. His perspective will change you.
Matthew 5:14 -“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Bible Project Website: https://bibleproject.com/
Raised strong Baha’i
Nelson, crazy wild childhood
Mental illness and abuse in the home
How the Baha’i faith shaped his views about God
Traveling alone at 14 and on his own at 17
Where he got his love for helping with injustice, compassion and women’s equality
Living in Turkey to find himself
His move from business into the non profit world
Starting his nonprofit, Hear The Cry
10 years + traveling with Bob Goff and Dream Big
His current work at Bible Project, with John Collins & Tim Mackie
His heart to bring Bible Project to the nations
Bible Project in 30 languages so far
Book to help our Global Mindset: “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” Kenneth Bailey
Quotes from Michael McDonald:
“We started a number of schools, opened up some hospitals and some rescue homes for gals getting rescued out of the sex trade. We worked in Ughanda Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, different ministries in each of those places. So we find incredible local leaders that have a passion for one of those types of things and then help create some infrastructure and do that.” (with Bob Goff)
“I have been part of Bible Project since the beginning, because it has been friends that were working on this project. I saw the first two videos that came out in 2014, and just thought ‘wow, these are going to be an incredible resource for people.’ I was thinking of them globally right away, just because I worked with so many pastors and teachers in other countries that are starving for good Bible resources, and thought these would be a great asset, especially because they are free, and they are so well done.”
“The reality is Christianity isn’t a western religion. It was a Middle Eastern religion that is coming out of Israel…we need to understand history and context.”
For more inspiring stories: https://lettersfromhomepodcast.com/
Purposely. Your life. God’s purpose. Listen at onpurposely.com.
Meg Glesener: Wonderful news. Letters from Home has recently joined the CRISTA family in Seattle, Washington, and we are now part of the Purposely podcast network and channel. Thank you for celebrating with me all of you current listeners, and a special welcome to all of you new listeners. To give you a great sample of the stories you can expect or may not have had a chance to hear yet, we are doing a From the Vault series of some everyday extraordinary faith stories from the past. Here is Michael McDonald’s story titled Bible Project Global Visionary.
Michael McDonald: When you’re learning about faith from an Afghan believer who has no concept of Western Christianity it’s all a Middle Eastern faith paradigm that he or she lives in.
It stretches the stories; it stretches the way [00:01:00] that you do things and your idea of church and the production that we’ve made it here. And I’m not saying that’s bad, that’s just, that happens to be our take on it. But then to go and experienced home church in China, and this is what their church looks like, it absolutely shapes.
So I would say that all the things that I’ve been a part of in the last 20 years of learning to follow Jesus, and I’m still an infant in so many ways, has come from just stepping out there.
Narrator: And now for the next episode of Letters from Home, sending encouragement to your doorstep by capturing the heartbeat of God’s people. One story at a time.
Meg Glesener: Can you remember anything you longed for as a child? Today’s guest yearned for a father figure. He will share with us his troubled early years adopted Bahai in Canada. As a teen from China to Turkey to the US, you will see his search in his rare faith journey. And how now as a man with a [00:02:00] father and a global focus, God has taken his story and vision to hundreds of countries that have affected millions around the world.
You will hear about his nonprofit Hear the Cry, partnering with Bob Goff for over a decade and how he is currently serving and making an impact at Bible Project Globally. And in the PS you will hear about his love for photography, his lovely wife. Melissa and the flaw that keeps him on his knees. Let’s step into the heartbeat of today’s guest, the everyday extraordinary Michael McDonald.
Michael, I’m so happy to have you on the podcast today. It’s an honor to have you. I heard you speak at Pod Fest and at the Spark Summit, and it was such a blessing hearing your heart and your vision and your ministry, and I know God’s used you. All over the world, you’ve gotten to do amazing things and I thought it’d be great for our [00:03:00] listeners just to hear your heart.
And you currently work at Bible Project and you’re the director of Global Focus and Strategic Relationships. That sounds exciting.
Michael McDonald: Gosh, that sounds ominous, doesn’t it? , yeah, ,
Meg Glesener: What does that actually mean?
Michael McDonald: Yeah. Gosh, it’s a mouthful, basically. Let’s not kid, anybody. We’re making cartoons about Jesus for the Internet.
So it, I. I have the privilege of just figuring out what that looks like in other countries, other languages, other contexts, and building relationships with folks that either are gonna make those materials for us or use them in their context. And so I’ve got teams that work for me in both those areas.
One on the global focus side. And they’re doing all the localization and we’re working in; our hope is to work in 60 languages in the next few years. We’re working on 30 right now. And then on the strategic relationship side, it’s partnerships and organizations like Compassion International and Alpha and Young Life and Crew.
And all those kind of folks that are doing really [00:04:00] neat discipleship work and we figure out how we can help bless them and work with them with our content.
Meg Glesener: That’s great. And I love your heart for reaching lots of different languages. I was watching a Bible project, YouTube video in Spanish. It was so good just to break down what it means; what the Holy Spirit means. And I know we’ve used those materials in our youth group at church, and really our college kids about five years ago said, mom, dad you have to listen to Bible Project our whole family, we’re going through the plans together, watching the videos, we’ve used it for discipleship and I’ve just, it’s such a gift from the Lord.
And today I’m really thankful for it. So thanks so much for being involved in that.
Michael McDonald: Thanks for following along for so long. You’re like one of our first listeners. It sounds like, so that’s exciting.
Meg Glesener: Credit the college kids when your kids say, let’s do this Bible thing together. Amen. Let’s do it.
Michael McDonald: That’s fair.
Meg Glesener: Michael, I know God has, you have quite an [00:05:00] interesting background and upbringing and we’re just gonna get into your story a bit. So what was it like growing up for you?
Michael McDonald: Wow. Gosh, where to start? But thanks for the opportunity and the question for sure. I grew up, I’m Canadian, so I grew up in a small little ski town in British Columbia called Nelson.
It’s a little draft dodging hippie town, in the mountains there in the Kootenays. It was actually a wonderful place to grow up in the sense that we were outdoors every day and it was beautiful and skied all winter. But I had a, I think all of us have a story with our childhood.
And I grew up in a home. My dad left when I was three. My mom remarried a pretty controlling, abusive stepdad. We had a number of kids in the house, myself and my brother. He brought two kids into the family. And then we had foster kids all growing up as well in our house. And just a crazy wild kind of house.
[00:06:00] And my mom suffered from manic depression and had some bouts with that throughout my childhood. So yeah, I got out of home as soon as I could, basically is the way that it, when I was 17, I moved out from Nelson and moved to Calgary. And I grew up Baha’i, I didn’t grow up in the faith that I’m associated with now being a Jesus follower.
Meg Glesener: What exactly is Baha’i, could you, can you break that down for our listeners?
Michael McDonald: Yeah, sure. Baha’i? Yeah. Baha’i is a religion that came outta the 1850s out of Iran. So kind of think of it as an offshoot of Islam. It is its own faith. It’s not an offshoot. They believe that God sends down different prophets, teachers to teach at different stages of humanity. And so they considered Jesus a prophet. They would look even the scriptures as being a, a, an authoritative text in their faith. But they also would believe that Mohamed was a [00:07:00] prophet. So Jesus came to teach love.
Mohammed came to teach obedience. The Hawala, their prophet, one of the major teachings for him was equality. And that’s equality between men and women. Equality between races, equality between religions. . So you can imagine a religion like that coming out of Iran in the 1850s teaching about equality, massive persecution which really spread the religion really fast cuz a lot of them left Iran and went all over the world as persecuted Bahais and the religion spread pretty fast.
And so I was part of a community in Nelson that was a lot of actually folks, some folks from Iran, some folks from, a lot of different places. And so I grew up in a very multicultural scenario. And I’d read different parts of scripture, but never understood the gospel in the way that we understand it.
Meg Glesener: You said you wanted to at 17, you just wanted to bolt. What was it about your childhood that made you wanna [00:08:00] bold and how did that whole Bahai thing shape your thoughts about God?
Michael McDonald: Yeah. I’m very thankful for my upbringing, the Bahai faith. I think it, it shaped a lot of things around.
Again, when I was 14 and my brother was 12, my mom sent us to China on our own. To go to a women’s conference, that was being held about the equality between men and women. The injustice that’s happening to women around the world. So 40,000 people from around the world landed in China in 1994.
Hillary Clinton was a speaker. Sally Field, it was a big event, but it was people from all over the world and women sharing their stories about the injustice that happens, in, in a lot of these places from Somalia whose husbands had poured acid on them because they didn’t do the laundry that day.
Like just really gnarly, gnarly stories and that shaped me. I was 14. Again my mom is super well, so she just sent my brother and I off on our own. So if you can imagine a 14 year old and a 12 year old just [00:09:00] heading to China on their own with an envelope of money and just, we had to find our hotels and figure out our food and kind of all that kind of stuff.
But I’m super thankful for that experience cuz it shaped the part of me that wanted to fight for justice and specifically for women and children and all of that. So that shaped me big time. So I think my approach towards God, from an early stage was shaped in God who cares about injustice, God who cares about compassion and those kinds of things.
Getting out of Nelson was strictly just, I had a, I didn’t like my stepdad. I didn’t really. Nelson was a small town. I could see people that either got out or if they stayed, they were working at 7-Eleven for the rest of their life and I just wasn’t, I’d seen too much already.
I’d been to China. I had been, and not that working at 7-Eleven for the rest of your life was totally fine. For me, I had seen too much that I felt like I needed to get out and be a part of that. [00:10:00] And yeah. A lot of my family had been abused through that person. So it just wasn’t a good place to stay.
And I found, I, I got to Calgary. I started working in a restaurant there. I met a mentor. Actually when I moved to Calgary, I got a job at a clothing store. I did that for a year and a half. I managed a clothing store at 17. The manager got caught stealing from the safe the first week I was there.
So the owners came in and ended up saying, Hey, if you wanna take the store on, we need somebody at least for the next month. So I did that, but I didn’t wanna work on a mall for the rest of my life. So I ended up doing a trip to Turkey when I was 19. , a find myself trip.
Who am I, what am I about? What do I do? Should I go to college? I didn’t have a father; I didn’t have somebody that was helping me with making these decisions. And my mom was sick. And when I went to Turkey, I met a missionary named Mark in Cappadocia. I was [00:11:00] traveling around this area where the Christians hid from the Turks and built these homes in these mountainsides.
And I met this missionary from Australia named Mark, who ended up . He didn’t have a dad either, and we started connecting on some of our childhood stuff. He handed me a Bible and just said, Hey, if you’ve never read one of the gospels all the way through, why don’t you read one tonight?
Let’s talk about it tomorrow. And so I took his Bible and I read through the gospel of Matthew for the first time, the whole thing, and was so moved by the Sermon on the Mount was moved by, Jesus was moved with really believing that I’m like, wow, I’m following the wrong dude, I need to this is who I want to learn from.
This is, and I didn’t have all the language, I didn’t understand anything about the Trinity or that Jesus was God or anything. I still just was like, but Jesus is who I need to follow. And that was the starting point of my kind of faith journey in following Jesus. And I spent the next week with that missionary.
He baptized me there in Turkey and [00:12:00] came back to Alberta. And first thing I prayed for with my own words, Bahais pray, but we have a prayer book that we pray. There’s like a bunch of different prayers. So if you’re in a difficult situation, you pray the remover of difficulties prayer.
If you’re, there’s a daily obligatory prayer, there’s a morning obligatory prayer. The first time I really prayed my own words to God was there in Turkey. And the first thing I asked for was, I need a mentor. I need a father figure. I need someone to help me walk through my life.
Cause I just don’t know where I’m going and what I’m doing. And I came back to Edmonton and I got a job at a restaurant. And the manager Lane was the answer to that prayer. He was not a believer, but he was the most integral person I had come across, he was the most straight, he just was man of compassion, cared about people.
He just really taught me what it is to be a human, in a lot of ways.
Meg Glesener: What a blessing in a way. Because you didn’t have those [00:13:00] strong connections with family, you were more free to do that. Were, had you included your family on your spiritual journey at that point, or did you have any siblings that you were really close to, or was it a
Michael McDonald: No. No, not at all. And honestly, it took a few years before I invited my family into that because they’re very devout, passionate Bahais. And so I was afraid that I would be able to be convinced out of, my newfound faith to go back in because Bahais are the most accepting people you’ll ever meet.
But they will, they would say like, why would you want to go back to Jesus when you’ve got like Jesus is awesome, but like you’ve got this much more teaching, this much more like the teachings for today. It feels like you’re still stuck back here, where you’ve got the window’s been opened and you’ve got access to all this other new teaching.
Why wouldn’t you just stay there? And so I was afraid that they would be able to [00:14:00] convince me into that. Not that they would ever say, you shouldn’t be a Christian or shouldn’t be, you shouldn’t follow Jesus. Cuz they all would say, yeah, Jesus is great. You should follow Jesus. They just would say, you all should follow the Hawala.
Meg Glesener: So how did your dad reconcile the violence with his faith? I’m sure that’s not something that’s part of the Bahai faith.
Michael McDonald: I have no idea. I have no, my, my stepdad?
Meg Glesener: Your stepdad, I meant, yeah.
Michael McDonald: I have no clue. I don’t think, I think it’s a mental health thing. I think there’s child abuse there there’s a lot of things.
So I don’t, I have no, no clue how he reconciled it, but I would ask the same of so many people including myself, that do things that are outside of our faith paradigm. I was reminded when I was in India, I remember I was with Roshan, who’s my friend there that has an incredible ministry and we were in the, we wanted to get some meat some actual meat.
And people hadn’t been able to eat [00:15:00] any sort of beef for a long time. Cause you don’t eat a lot of beef in India, cows are sacred. And so we went to the Muslim butcher to buy beef and. in walked this Hindu woman that was all covered buying beef at the butcher shop. And I remember looking at Roshan and going like, how does that work?
That’s such a, it feels like there’s a hypocrisy here where she’s Hindu, but she’s coming into the Muslim butcher to buy meat. And he looked at me and said, Mike, how many things do you do out of hypocrisy right from your Christian? Like, how often are you angry at your neighbor or angry at your enemy or whatever?
Like he goes, we can totally look through the list of things of how does the way that you act work with your faith? So I’d probably say the same with Bill. I have no idea. But it probably is the same as it is for all of us. We were, there’s certain things that are mental health, there’s certain things that we justify. And it’s a long struggle that we try to figure it out.
Meg Glesener: Absolutely. Yeah. I was just at a Bible study this morning and we were talking about us being [00:16:00] the aroma of Christ in every place and going through the fruit of the spirit. Yeah, we’re all, it’s definitely a work in progress. .
Michael McDonald: It is. Yeah, it really is.
Meg Glesener: So where do you wanna go next?
Michael McDonald: Oh, when? Yeah. So came to faith went to Edmonton, met Lane that put me down a road of working in the restaurant industry where I started opening up restaurants, got into management and started opening up and traveled around. Then we were part of buying a restaurant chain down here in Portland and Seattle called Cucina Cucina.
So I moved down to Portland to be a part of that move of our company from Canada. It was here that I got involved in a kind of newer church plant called Imago Dei Community, which is a great church here in Portland. I ended up starting a small group with a guy named Donald Miller and we started a nonprofit together called The Mentoring Project, and at that point is when I basically got out of the restaurant industry, I ended up getting a job at the church and starting this nonprofit and running this nonprofit, and that was my move from business into the nonprofit world.[00:17:00]
I did that for a number of years and then ended up taking a job at another church in town called Solid Rock, where I started a ministry called Hear the Cry. That was a global local injustice and compassion ministry. Through my relationship with Don, I had met Bob Goff and Bob was just starting to do a bunch of work overseas as well.
So the two of us just started to do a ton of stuff in Uganda and Iraq and all over the place. And so our ministries did a lot of partnership together and for the next kind of 10 years, I ended up doing that and then have come to the Bible project in the last two years. .
Meg Glesener: So what was it like working with Bob? I was just listened to a podcast episode with him on my friend Sue Donaldson’s podcast Make it Count about leaving a legacy and it was, he just seemed so kind and easygoing. And I know he has his phone number on that book. And my daughter Eden, who I introduced you to a little while ago, she was, oh mom, this book is so good.
And she read the book and then she called the [00:18:00] number and he answered the phone and they talked. But for 10 years you worked with Bob?
Michael McDonald: Yeah, and I continue to, yeah. We still, I Bob’s more of a friend than he is someone I work with. But yeah, no we’ve traveled for 10 years together, to a lot of different places, and we started something he started something that I gotta be a part of called Dream Big, that I’m still actively involved in. And Corona and Covid i’s taken a bit of a hit of us getting to do that together. But yeah, no, it’s wonderful. He’s the real deal for sure.
Meg Glesener: What did you do abroad with him? What was the ministry like?
Michael McDonald: We started a number of schools, opened up some hospitals and some rescue homes for gals getting rescued out of the sex trade.
We, worked. So Uganda, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, India. And so different ministries in each of those places. But yeah, we, we find local, incredible local leaders to that, that have a passion for one of those types of things and [00:19:00] then help create some infrastructure and do that.
So yeah, we’ve had it’s been great. We continue to, hopefully at one point we’ll, countries will open back up and we’ll start doing more of that.
Meg Glesener: That’s awesome. So that’s different than Hear the Cry that’s Hear the Cry is something that you started.
Michael McDonald: Hear the Cry. Yep. It’s the same. So here The Cry was, my ministry Love Does was Bob’s, but we just did ’em together.
Meg Glesener: I see.
Michael McDonald: And we, part of that is, is that we. . I don’t like doing anything alone. I know that Bob doesn’t like doing anything alone. And we found ways to when you go into a place, you go into a new country like Afghanistan and you’re trying to decide who to partner with and how to partner.
I could go and try to figure that out on my own, or he could go and try to figure that on his own, but we just know that we’re all better together than apart in, in the sense of I’m gonna have certain things that I’m maybe gonna see. He’s gonna have certain things that he sees. And so we do it in team and in friendship and we’re in it for the long haul.
Meg Glesener: Is it something that, like I, I [00:20:00] go to Alderwood Church in Lynwood, Washington, and so is there something that we’re Hear the Cry or Dream Big that could partner with other churches? If our church wanted to get involved with something
Michael McDonald: Does that a ton. Hear the Cry is now after I left, they are now specifically at West Side Church and it’s become more of just like a singular church type thing. When I was running it, there were lots of churches that were involved in it, but it’s become a little bit more just this one church’s thing. Love Does for sure. There’s lots of churches that partner with us to help do a lot of that stuff. And there was a church up in Vancouver that funded the entire hospital that we built in Iraq and another church that got to be involved in the home in Uganda, in the school. So yeah, absolutely. I would just go into Love Does’ website and there’s an amazing gal that runs everything there named Dae, d a e.
. And she’s phenomenal and probably one of the smartest women you’ll ever meet. And she’s been a [00:21:00] huge part of getting all these things started in most of these countries. And she’s one of the bandits that would travel around with us for sure.
Meg Glesener: That’s amazing. . So Cocina Cocina, are they still around?
Michael McDonald: They’re not. We bought the brand. It was
Meg Glesener: Because I remember when they were in Seattle. Seattle, and I was thinking, didn’t they go under?
Michael McDonald: Yeah. So yeah. The company that, yeah, no, the company that I was a part of that bought them is called Joey. And so they’re now in Seattle.
Meg Glesener: Oh. My daughter worked at Joey’s.
Michael McDonald: Oh really? Which one?
Meg Glesener: She worked at Joey’s that was on Lake Union.
Michael McDonald: Lake Union before it shut down?
Meg Glesener: Before it shut down. She worked there. She got a job there when she’s gonna Seattle pacific.
Michael McDonald: Yeah. So I opened up, I was a part of opening up that store at Lake Union and then Bellevue, U Village now there’s two in LA. Yeah. They’re all over now. But that was, so Joey was the company that Lane’s, the president of Joey of Joey. And so Lane actually is who started Lake [00:22:00] Union and I came down to Portland to start the ones down here.
But yeah, lane, my, my mentor , he’s still up in Seattle, so he’s still there.
Yeah. That’s awesome. So you said, so two years ago you’ve been working with the Bible Project. How did that come about and what have you brought to, and I’m sure you brought a lot of your global heart and vision to Bible Project.
Yeah, so John Collins, one of the co-founders and Tim Mackey. So John was a friend of mine from Imago Dei community. He was at the church that Don and I and a number of others were at here in town. And then Tim Mackey was somebody who, he’s from Portland originally, but was moving back to Portland, which is when I met him.
We were looking at hiring him to be one of the teaching pastors and he ended up taking a job at a great church Door of Hope here before starting the Bible Project. So I’ve been a part of the Bible Project since the beginning, just cuz it’s been friends that have been working on this project and I saw the first two videos that came out back in 2014 and just thought, wow, these are gonna be an incredible resource for [00:23:00] people. Me, I was thinking of them globally right away, just because I work with so many pastors and teachers in other countries that are starving for good Bible resources and thought these would be a great asset, especially cuz they’re free and they’re just so well done.
And then a few years ago, Ken Weigel and John. Ken was another guy from Imago and was one of the first employees of the Bible project. A really good friend approached me cuz he knew of the global work that I was doing with Hear the Cry and with Bob and just said, Hey, we’re looking at really launching these things into other countries and other languages.
We’re gonna need a number of people to help out with that. And would you ever think of coming in and doing that? It was just a timing thing. It was the right time for me to hand off the nonprofit to some other capable great people and did a lot of praying about it and realized that yeah, it was the right move.
Yeah, I came on to, to do that and yeah, thankfully a lot of my relationships globally have, been able to cross over into the work that we get to do at the Bible Project and from language [00:24:00] advisors that we’re working with to people that are actually just using the materials and getting them out.
I just hired a guy from Zimbabwe that I met through being in Zimbabwe and working in Zimbabwe for a number of years, I just got to hire him as a strategic relationships person for Africa. And he’s gonna travel around all of Africa, helping build relationships with organizations and so yeah it’s neat when you get to work with friends that you’ve built over the last, 10 to 15 years for sure.
Meg Glesener: Totally. And do you feel like it’s all been a growing experience for you and your faith? So you. You got saved. It was dramatic. You were discipled. And then it sounds like you’ve just been involved with ministry ever since.
Michael McDonald: I think I may, it could be a personality thing. I’m a learn as you go.
Like just get in and do things. I think God’s got way more green lights than red lights. So I’m a step into it and unless you get a really clear indication, it’s not what you should be doing, then just keep doing more of it and try. And I’m a [00:25:00] say yes kind of person for sure. I also just think I learned from doing, I’m just more of a kinetic, get my hands dirty.
So everything that I’ve learned about faith has, for the most part, come from stepping into things and being in situations that, I really, everything I’ve learned about prayer has come from stepping into situations that I really needed prayer, like not an idea about prayer, but a deep need.
And, everything I’ve learned about compassion and humility has been rubbing shoulders with people that is their life. And I learned from them and going on these trips and making friends around the world has been the greatest teacher for me of that. It’s hard to get wrapped into a western idea of Christianity when you are learning from so many people from all these different places.
When you’re learning about faith from an Afghan believer who has no concept of Western Christianity it’s all, [00:26:00] a Middle Eastern faith paradigm that, that he or she lives in you really, it stretches, the stories, it stretches the way that you do things and it, your idea of church, and the production that we’ve made it here.
And I’m not saying that’s bad, that’s just that happens to be our take on it. But then to go and experience church in, home church in China and this is what their church looks like and yeah it absolutely shapes. So I would say that all the things that I’ve been a part of in the last 20 years of learning to follow Jesus, and I’m still an infant in so many ways, has come from just stepping out there and keeping an, I think an open, learning, postured heart.
I think it’d be easy to be at a place like the Bible Project where we’re doing a lot of theology and teaching to get some sort of big head. Like you’ve got it all figured out. And the reality is that, we’re still in our awkward teenager phase, like we’re still, our bones are growing and we don’t really know, we’re figuring it out.
And yeah, I continue to learn and I [00:27:00] hope I continue to learn for the rest of my life.
Meg Glesener: Amen. And you mentioned the idea of West could you unpack that a little bit? Western Christianity cuz maybe some people who are listening don’t realize that we have a way that we’re looking at it you know?
Michael McDonald: We’ve got a way, everybody has a way that they’re looking at it, but it’s easy to conceive that your way is the most correct way or the right way. Cause it’s what you know. . But the reality is that Christianity isn’t a Western religion. It was a Middle Eastern religion.
It’s coming out of Israel and it was birthed through that, so we have to learn in my mind, to understand the text and to understand the letters and to understand Paul and John and Jesus and all of this. I feel like we need to understand history and context. And that’s why I think the Bible Project’s really an important tool.
Cause it helps you understand like where this was all coming from. And so when you think church or you think you know the upper room or Jesus in his disciples you, we can’t just [00:28:00] impose a western view set into, oh, I betcha this is what he was doing. We have to step into the culture that it was being birthed from.
Now, it doesn’t mean it needs to stay there. I’m really, I’m totally fine with Western culture and I’m fine with production and I’m fine with we’ve gotta make it work inside of our own cultural context. What we can’t do is think that’s the way that it works everywhere else or that it should work everywhere else, or that’s how we attribute success.
And so I’ve seen too many church planners go to try to plant a church in Africa and try to plant it how we would in America. And it’s just not the way that it, and it’s almost to the detriment of we’re losing out on so much amazing culture to learn and see, what that looks like over in those places.
So yeah, I think we just gotta know Christianity is the world. It’s Jesus is for the world, not just for us. And it’s not just our way that makes it shake and move and everything else.
Meg Glesener: Yeah. Absolutely. So if there’s somebody here who, [00:29:00] in the US who really doesn’t have a chance to go abroad, how could they have a more global perspective?
Michael McDonald: I’m a big fan of reading and watching things that don’t come from , listen, we’re so in our social media network world that we live in right now, we are fed content that we already agree with. That’s just that’s the Facebook, it’s Instagram, everything else. They know the algorithms really well and you’re bucket, so if you’re a Republican, you’re gonna get Republican stuff.
If you’re a Democrat, you’re gonna get Democrat stuff if you’re this person, and it’s just, they know that. Get outside your lane, learn from voices and people that you normally wouldn’t listen to. I ask the question and you talk about women, I ask the question, how many women authors have, if guys are having a hard time with women teachers in the church, and this is a big theology topic, but if you’re having a hard time with women, teachers ask, when was the last time you’ve read a book written by you have a hard time with just women in [00:30:00] general.
In my, and this is Mike’s opinion, not the Bible Projects or anybody else. But you’ve gotta ask yourself, and to me one of the best ways to do that is just start reading some women authors and start getting, and then start, you gotta get outside your normal lane. And so if you can’t travel, a library is an incredible way to travel.
That’s how we all traveled for the long and most of us weren’t able to travel until the last 50 years. It’s not like we were all getting on planes and getting to see these places. Very few were. Go through picture books and go through the library and become a student of other cultures because I think to understand Jesus is to understand humanity and the whole of humanity.
Meg Glesener: That’s great. Thank you. Are there any books in particular that you could name?
Michael McDonald: One of my personal favorites is it pertains to the church would be Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Guy named something Bailey, I can’t remember his first name. He’s gonna hate me for saying that. I can’t remember, but I think it’s Jonathan Bailey.
But it’s Bailey. Okay. Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. It’s [00:31:00] incredible book and I think a great one for that. I think. , I’ll give you a list. You can post it later. Okay. I’m also a big fan of reading outside of theology, like read novels. One of the best ways you can understand culture is to actually get into story and how storytelling works and what’s important, and so find novels that are from other places, other countries, other contexts, but yeah I’m a big fan of that.
Meg Glesener: I know for us, I listen to Al Jazeera News. And the BBC just go outside of the US to get a different perspective on the world.
Michael McDonald: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s really, that’s a really good, Al Jazeera is who I generally go to for global news.
But yeah, BBC used to be great. I think they’re still pretty good.
Meg Glesener: Yeah. Justin. Mike, thanks for, thank you for sharing your story of how you came to faith. Is there a verse that means a lot to you personally?
Michael McDonald: Any yeah. Anything from the, from [00:32:00] Matthew, just because of my background of what, how I came to Faith was reading the gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount particularly, and then I would say the whole first part of that, you are the light of the world.
Let your light shine before others. They may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven. Like I, that idea of that we are the light and that we are to shine that light. What’s really interesting too, about that section, and I could be butchering it from a theological standpoint, but how I read it, the salt and light aspect where you are the salt of the earth.
If salt is lost, its taste no longer be good for anything, but be trampled under feet by men. Salt and light, what’s interesting is that salt is meant to be spread out in a dish, like a big spoonful of salt is horrible, but you spread it out over a dish and it brings flavor to the entire dish.
And so we as Jesus followers are meant to be salt and light, which means we’re meant to be spread out. So out into the world, like out into the coffee shops and the workplaces and the, everything, we’re not meant to just clump together and [00:33:00] just be this really salty dish. And I think too often we do that as Christians where we’re like, I want my barber to be a Christian.
I want my lawyer to be a Christian. I want my supermarket to be, I want, I’m gonna go to the Christian, all of the everything’s Christian. To me, that’s missing that whole idea of salt just being spread out. There’s this idea, but there’s also this idea of light, which is like a city set on a hill cannot be hidden so that when we come together as light, you can’t miss out.
And this is this idea that we are to be a light almost like how did Paul frame it? In his cities of refuge, like this idea that people would look at us as a community and go, there’s something different about them and that feels so right. The way that they’re caring for one another, the way that they’re loving one another, the way they’re serving the poor, the way that they’re caring for the refugee.
All those things. And so this idea that it’s this accordion, like we come. together, so that the world can see that we love one another and we’re doing a [00:34:00] horrible job of that. We blast each other as Christians like, your theology’s wrong, or you’re from this denomination, or you’re from this church, or you’re from.
We’re just not being that like collected light. And yeah. What is it like? That’s a huge verse for me. What does it like to gather and show the world what the kingdom of God could look like in this place, and then to be spread out into the world
Meg Glesener: Before we seal up the envelope on this story of encouragement, I have prepared bonus material for you that we like to call the PS. Sure to make you smile and be moved within your heart as you see a bit more of the heart and personality of our guest.
Narrator: Here is your PS.
Meg Glesener: Are you ready for some bonus questions?
Michael McDonald: Sounds great.
Meg Glesener: All right, so I know you love photography. Where did your love for photography begin and what makes a good photographer?
Michael McDonald: [00:35:00] Oh gosh. Love for photography began with my grandfather. He let me, he had a camera and was into photography, was really great at taking photos, and he at a very young age, just let me play with his camera and I just got fascinated by it.
And then it was touch and go for a number of years. And then I really needed a creative outlet. Picked it back up. Few photographers that my grandpa turned me onto when I was very young. Steve McCurry, who was a big National Geographic photographer, a guy named David Allen Harvey, who was also a National Geographic photographer.
I had the privilege of learning under David in New York, and just a incredible person with that. And then a guy named Sebastiano Salgado. And Salgado is probably who has informed my style the most. He shoots primarily in black and white, which I shoot all in black and white. He is just a, he traveled a ton and did a lot and all human pieces, like all people, I’m not a big landscape , [00:36:00] instagramy type photography. It’s much more and not right or wrong, that’s just a, you have to have a certain eye for that and I just don’t, I don’t have the mechanical eye of getting everything framed exactly perfect. I’m much more of a, , build a relationship with a person and tap into who they are in their soul and try to capture that as best I can.
And I thankfully had the privilege of traveling all over the world, 15, 20 times a year. And so the subjects, the human subjects that are in these places, are endless. And I’d be building relationship with all of them. So it was a lot of fun.
Meg Glesener: And one of the quotes that I read is that telling people’s stories and celebrating their humanity can move the needle in tangible ways. How have you seen that?
Michael McDonald: Yeah, with my own stuff and with others. They’re the, probably the most profound photograph I came across when I was younger was, and from a South African photographer who was photographing the, I believe it was in the Congo, but it was a [00:37:00] massive food shortage situation. Or Sudan, I think it was. And he took a photo of a kid, that in the same photo was a vulture waiting for him to die.
Meg Glesener: I’ve seen that, remember that.
Michael McDonald: You’ve seen that photo and most of us have, and it was a very sad story because he ended up committing suicide a number of years later because of the press that he got of like, why didn’t you help the kid?
Or, all this stuff. So anyways, it started a very big debate in the photography world. Regardless, the photo itself moved people to actually be a part of giving to the World Food Program and a lot of other things to help with those areas. So that’s where I think photography, I would’ve never known about that situation.
I would’ve never known about that story, and I don’t even know if I would’ve been moved. You hear things all the time but there’s something about a photo when you see it that transports you there and you go, wow. Like I, I can’t let this happen. I can’t know about this. And continue to let it happen.
[00:38:00] And so that’s one. I also just think that you can share stories and you can share names and facts, but there’s just something about an image. So when I come home with an image of one of our girls, Helen from Uganda, who was trafficked into the sex trade, and we were able to get her out of that situation and into a home and into a school.
And I show some people photos of Helen and where she’s at in her school. You, all of a sudden this name has a face. And photography can do that. Better than, and I even think sometimes more than videos. I actually think for some reason an image that’s frozen in this moment, I have an easier time remembering it than I do a 60 second video reel. And so that’s just me personally. But yeah, I think, I don’t think photo photography’s going anywhere.
Meg Glesener: Absolutely. Thank you. But that was a great answer. I love what you shared. What would you say to someone who wants to go serve and far [00:39:00] off lands?
Michael McDonald: I would say that you have to go as a learner and not a teacher. And you, if you think that you’re going to teach something, then don’t go yet. I think that we need to, I wouldn’t let anybody come. So as an example in Iraq, we’re working in Iraq, we’re working with a lot of Muslims, a lot of Kurdish, a lot of different folks from different religions. And I had a lot of people that would want to go to Iraq so that they could share the gospel.
With these friends of mine, which I think is beautiful. But I said, if you go and you want to just share the gospel, but you are unwilling to learn about their faith and learn about their religion, and learn about why it’s important to them, and learn about what it means to them. If you’re not willing to open your heart to actually hear those things. , then you can’t go, or I won’t let you share the gospel. I, we’re just, none of us like it, like none of us, like somebody forcing an opinion of ours down our throats in any way, even if we think that we’re true, [00:40:00] and we’re right. And I would say just travel as a learner.
Travel with a lot of humility. Go to learn, go to just, stay humble and stay open and realize that, that the world also is a lot safer than we think it’s, we always go after the really crazy things that have happened in places. But in the same way, I could look at you, Meg and go man, I, sorry for what’s going on in Seattle.
You guys just must be going crazy with the city. Just shutting down and. Are your kids safe? Are you okay? What’s, and you’re just going Mike, there’s like a five block radius of some craziness happening. Like we’re fine. Like we’re still going and getting our groceries, we’re going out for dinner.
But it’s amazing how we can like just look at one instance, you know when Somalia is an example and go, man, Somalia is just you shouldn’t go there. Everybody hates Americans and they just wanna kill you. Cuz they think of Black Hawk down and it’s just the opposite. There’s maybe 10 people that think that way and there’s millions that are just like so blown away that you’d take the time to come [00:41:00] visit them.
Meg Glesener: I guess for you, you’ve had so much experience globally in ministry. How have you helped your family keep a global perspective?
Michael McDonald: I learned from my wife. My wife is the greatest teacher. She’s a counselor. She’s a military brat, so she’s been all over the world. She’s been to more countries than I have.
She came with me on so many trips, I do 20 trips a year, and for a number of years, she came on 10 to 12 of those. So when she could, now she’s got a, she’s got her own private practice and she’s got clients and so she can’t just jump up and travel all the time. But no, I’m a my family.
I learned from my family, in that for sure. And so we don’t have kids, married 12 years. So that’s created obviously some freedom to get to do this, but I don’t think that should stop you. I think bring your kids with you. I’ve had so many families that, ask those questions of like, when’s an okay age to bring a kid?
And I’m a, I think they’re gonna learn all the way along just jump into it for sure. But [00:42:00] yeah, no, my wife’s incredible. She’s a. , a brilliant therapist that has just a ton of empathy and can step into any of those situations and they usually forget I’m there. They know that Melissa’s there.
Meg Glesener: You’ve been to a lot of, been involved with a lot of different churches as Michael, and what do you see as the greatest need in the church today? In the American church, I should say.
Michael McDonald: Stop competing and I’m a part of that, so I’m not saying that with any sort of ego. And then I also think that church leaders need to, and myself included, need to model more .
We’ve created institutions in a lot of ways that are not welcoming of questions. And we feel like we need to have all the answers, and we present that on stage. And I’ve been a part of that too when I teach. And what it’s done is, it’s created a room where I might have questions of someone sitting in the pews, but I don’t know where to ask them.
And I’m afraid to ask them, because I might come across either as stupid, not holy [00:43:00] enough, not Christian enough, not whatever. Like we’ve created this grid, whether I’ve been a believer for a year or 20 years and it actually gets worse as you’ve been in a believer longer because you should have this figured out by now.
And for me, as someone who’s been walking the faith for 20 years, could feel and have been a pastor and been a teacher and everything else have felt the pressure that I need to have all the answers. So when someone comes and asks me something, I also feel like I can’t say, I don’t know.
And that we’re modeling not being able to do that. And so I think we need to model vulnerability. We need to model humility. We need to model that we don’t have all the answers. Let’s go on a learning journey together. I think that’s what attracted me to Tim and John so much is that Tim and John at the Bible Project, John’s always asking questions and Tim’s never making him feel shamed that he’s asking them.
And if Tim doesn’t know, he’s going, man, I don’t know. Let’s go on a journey together. Let’s go figure that out together. Let’s learn about that. And so I think if we could do that as a church, I think we’d actually have a lot more people [00:44:00] be interested in what it is that we’re talking about and would want to go on that learning journey with us.
And then just vulnerability around life’s what’s going on in life and it’s hard. And, is my marriage perfect? No, I’ve slept on the couch before. I’ve slept in the spare room before. Like I’ve had those moments that we’ve had to really work through some stuff.
And, as leaders we need to set the stage for that because, if it’s happening in our marriages, it’s happening in a lot of marriages in our pews, but no one’s feeling like they can talk about it. Because again, they’re afraid of being judged and shame and comparison and judgment is a big enemy in in our four walls. And so how do we create safe places for people to be vulnerable? How do we create safe places that don’t have that shame and judgment and that we can go on learning journeys together? I think that would be a big win for the American church for sure.
Meg Glesener: One thing I’ve seen so much just being admin in Christian podcasters, is that there are so many great [00:45:00] Christian podcasts where people are being vulnerable and talking about all kinds of things.
Gender marriage failure and it’s really great. It’s just great to see the door open for healing and conversation, because really when you look at the scriptures, almost every person in the Old Testament had some major, major failure, and we can still be called the friend of God, yeah, man. A man after God’s own heart. Is there a ministry that you would like to start or participate in? Do you have any dream ministry you would like to do?
Michael McDonald: Oh man. I feel like I’m living it right now, which I’m very thankful for. I think, I still think there’s a long way to go around the fatherless generation globally. Pandemic of just so many kids growing up without dads and not knowing their father, and whether it’s incarceration, whether it’s just [00:46:00] leaving, whether it’s death, whether it’s, a lot of different reasons. And being a child of that in a lot of ways, that’s still pretty moving to me. I think the church has an awesome opportunity to be that response and to figure that out. I think anything to do with refugee care for me is super important.
Just, and part of that is cuz I just really do see our I just think that we’ve got a massive opportunity to really show the love of Jesus in that community. And then in foster care, orphan care. I just think there’s a lot there too. Yeah, I don’t know. Those are my three kind of big ones.
Meg Glesener: And yeah, for. Wherever you’re listening to Letters from Home, just go ahead and search for Bible Project and there and subscribe and follow them. And also Bob Goff’s podcast. Dream Big is another great podcast to just keep your heart to be taught in God’s word, to keep your heart more global, and also to do something [00:47:00] about the things we’re saying we value and believe.
And are there other things we can support you, in, or,
Michael McDonald: Oh gosh, just sharing it. Think for us. We can, I can share it, but it’s amazing when you share something that’s meaningful to you and don’t share it if it’s not meaningful to you. Watch one of the videos or watch some of it, and if you like it, then share it.
And if you don’t, please don’t. Yeah. You don’t have to worry about that. But I always find that when something is meaningful to somebody and they’re sharing it with me, I’m just that much more open to taking a look at it. Bible Project has always been a relational movement where it’s been introduced because you know your son watched it five years ago and then shared it with his family, and then you’re sharing it with others. And I think the problem with the Bible Project in a lot of ways though, is for those that know about it, it’s like there’s no in between. It’s like cilantro. Yeah. Either like it or you don’t.
If you’ve seen the Bible project and you like it, like you’ve probably watched a lot of the videos and to the podcast, you’ve gone in deep or you just haven’t heard of it. [00:48:00] And that’s often the space and I’ve told people it’s kinda like Amazon. Like when, when Amazon first came out, I remember telling everybody, guys two day delivery.
You won’t believe it. like it’s gonna be dropped off at your house in two days. That was the first year of me getting Amazon Prime. I was like an evangelist for Amazon. After that, I just stopped talking about it. Cause I just assumed every single person knew about Amazon. I don’t, when was the last time I ever told anybody about Amazon?
I just assume you’ve got it. Everyone’s got it. Bible Project is in a similar space, I think with people that are fans because they just assume everybody’s heard about it. Like you just go of course you must have heard you’re a Jesus follower. You must have heard of the Bible Project. The reality is that it’s 20% have heard about it and about 80% percent haven’t. And so just sharing it is awesome. We’re super thankful for that.
Meg Glesener: You know what I’m interested in too is exploring because we all have neighbors or people that speak different languages or country, other countries that are on people’s hearts.
So what [00:49:00] is the best way to find your different language materials? I know you have a YouTube.
Michael McDonald: Yeah. Yeah, the YouTube is one of the best ways, just our website. If you go to bible project.com in the top right hand corner, you click the little hamburger thing, the little three lines, and when you click that, there’s something that says languages.
And when you click languages, it’ll pop up the 30 languages we’re working on right now. And you can actually click one of those and it’ll open up a website that’s specific to that language subset. So they’re all on there. But yeah, you can absolutely search like Bible Project Mandarin and it’ll pop up the Bible project Mandarin website or Spanish or whatever.
Meg Glesener: Great. So Michael, is there, what character or person in the Bible do you most admire or relate to?
Michael McDonald: Oh, wow. No, it’s a great question. I don’t know if I’m allowed to answer it this way, but I would say the story of the prodigal son. I think I bounce between the son that left and the son that stayed.
And I would say I [00:50:00] identify depending on the season one of those. And so I, that story for me, I’m constantly going back to, because there’s moments that I feel like I’m, the sun that’s out in the pigs just muck and begging to come back in and have left. And then there’s other moments where I’ve got pride and ego and I’m having an issue hoping that my stepdad, who is abusive, is in the kingdom of God one day. And so there are moments where I feel like I’m that son and I’m holding onto my cloak and I’m holding onto the ring and I’m not wanting anybody else to have it. And then so yeah, the real honest answer is it’s probably, yeah, prodigal son and it’s probably cuz I bounce between the two places quite a bit.
Meg Glesener: And I know you said you’re okay with being vulnerable. What flaw keeps you on your knees in prayer, and what does that struggle look like and how have you found God to help you with it?
Michael McDonald: Yeah, for me it’s pride. It, part of, it’s like I’m a I [00:51:00] shouldn’t say it’s one of, it’s one of many things. , I would say , but, I’m a three on the Enneagram. I so deeply want to be liked. Part of that comes from my childhood, in, in fighting for kind of being seen and wanting to be seen.
Attachment issues and everything else, but no, but then that, what that made me do is it made me become extremely self-reliant. And so I learned that the only person that I can actually rely on is myself as at a young age. And that is a lie that has continued in my life as I’ve become an adult, which has made it more difficult in my marriage to let my wife take care of me and do that to be vulnerable and to be open about things that I’m struggling with.
And then also some ego that just thinks that I can do anything, and I and I’ve been successful in my life in terms of whether it’s business, whether it’s ministry, success, whatever you [00:52:00] want to paint it. And it’s easy for my ego to creep in and go, yeah, you made that happen. You did that. And so I’m constantly in prayer for humility. I’m constantly in prayer to fight against that kind of narcissistic kind of ego aspect of things. And it’s a fight around my identity. And am I loved outside of the things that I do? Am I loved outside of who I am at the Bible Project or in any of these other things. Am I okay just being my husband of Melissa?
Meg Glesener: Yeah. And I remember just the way you talked about Bible Project when I was at that conference and I was, I wrote that in the email, but I was struck by your humility. And again, yeah. It’s not like it means anything, cuz we’re just nothing before the Lord.
It’s all about just being in his image. But yeah. And, but the way you talked about the success Yeah. There are a million downloads but you talked [00:53:00] about it like it didn’t own you. It didn’t, you weren’t attached to it.
Michael McDonald: Yeah, it, it can, but it, but man, if it does it’s a quick I’ve been a part of companies where that’s happened and we start believing our own press and we start believing that we’re God’s gift to humanity through this, whatever it is that we’re doing. And because we’re very insular in that, we’re only listening to each other. , we’re only talking with one another. So it’s pretty easy to all of a sudden, think that you’re the coolest kid in the room.
And I’m constantly reminding our team and not the larger team, but even just my small team to go guys, if we’re the coolest kid, we’re the coolest kid in band camp right now. So let’s like not, let’s lower. Yeah. Let’s just not believe that stuff and let’s, and plus none of that matters anyway.
If the reason that we’re doing this is to get more views. Or to get more accolades or to, any of that, then it’s all gonna come up short. We’re always gonna be looking for more. We’re always gonna feel just that little bit [00:54:00] unsatisfied. And it’s the same thing with podcasts. I tell, I coach people on podcasts all the time and I tell people if you’re going after the number of people that are listening to your podcast, they’re always gonna be disappointed cuz there’s always gonna be somebody who’s got more than you.
. . And so to me, you’ve gotta go, why am I doing this podcast in the first place? I’m doing it to learn, to be in relationship to I learn from these interviews I thrive in, make it about what that is. At that point, it doesn’t matter if five people listen to it or if 500,000, it just doesn’t matter because you’re gonna get what you’re hoping to get out of it, regardless of the end.
Yeah, I wanna be doing this for a long time, so we gotta keep the right motivation along the way.
Meg Glesener: Amen. All right. Here is the last question. So what does being a child of God mean to you, and what quality do you continually find yourself praising him for?
Michael McDonald: I think that for me it comes down to identity. I think being a child of God is an identity [00:55:00] statement that everything can be built from. For me, this is again, and this is, comes from my background and maybe not maybe being insecure and my identity or insecure and where I came from. And am I a child of an abusive stepdad? Am I a child of a manic depressive bipolar mom?
Am I a child of, I could place my, so I think being a child of God has shaped the core identity piece that then everything else gets built on. And for me what that means is attachment acceptance. Like I have an attachment figure in God that is not going anywhere, is not going to leave when I do something really stupid because I’m gonna do something really stupid.
That is not going to punish me for me for pain’s sake but is hopefully going to walk me through things to grow and become a better version of [00:56:00] myself. And so now there’s consequences for our stuff that we decide to do for sure, but I don’t think those are different consequences than I would’ve had with my stepdad.
And I feel like where God steps in as a child of God as a child of God is He’s a father, mother, and I’ll say that I have no problem saying that. I feel like God is both genders for me in that. And so I am finding an attachment figure in this, in the Creator that allows me to grow as a human day by day, and that is not possible without a healthy attachment.
Meg Glesener: I trust you enjoyed Michael’s story as much as I do. It is so easy to have our hearts and our homes self-focused, America focused, and I just love how Michael has such a global focus in God’s given, in this rich experience. Just hearing about what God has done with his heart and his vision [00:57:00] to affect so many people around the world.
And while we are in our homes, we can each make a difference. I’m praying today that we have a global mindset. Letters from Home podcast is a growing ministry. God is using these real life stories to encourage people all over the world. We have listeners and 41 countries. Including the United Arab Emirates, the Republic of Korea, Croatia, Egypt, and Columbia to name a few.
How cool is that? And we would love to partner with you in prayer. In the show notes, there is a link to our monthly prayer list, and right next to that link, we’ll be a link where you can send us your prayer request privately and our Letters From Home prayer team will be lifting you up before God.
Narrator: Links from our guests will be in the show notes.
For more everyday extraordinary faith stories, go to our [00:58:00] website, lettersfromhomepodcast.com, and click subscribe or follow on whatever platform you’re listening to.
2 Corinthians 3:3, and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God. Not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.
Until next time, go in peace.