From The Inside Out: Book Review

I am excited to share my review of From The Inside Out:  Reimagining Mission, Recreating The World by Ryan Kuja.

A global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development, Ryan Kuja has lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents and has fifteen years of professional, academic, and personal experience in mission.

He holds a M.A. in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology as well as a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Ryan is a writer and spiritual director, currently serving as the Field Director of Word Made Flesh in Medellin, Colombia, where he lives with his wife.

Learn more about Ryan at

I had never read this type of book before and I have never done his type of work. I was intrigued when I was asked to read and review Ryan’s book. Let me share 5 key points that I take away from my look at From The Inside Out.

Please note I received this paperback book for free to review from the publisher and the kindle version from the Speakeasy blogging book review network.

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Who Am I ?

“Was part of the reason why I was engaging in mission to fulfill my personal need for meaning and purpose?”

“I began to consider for the first time that I had a compulsive need to do mission work that was rooted in a profound sense of personal inadequacy. Mission had given me a sense of identity. I didn’t know who I was without it—I was a missionary or I was nothing at all.”

Good intentions are where we begin. They are not an invitation to get on a plane and show up somewhere ready to “help.

“The energy moving within the “helper” to alleviate suffering often turns into an action that unwittingly results in two consequences. First, it may unintentionally create harm to the vulnerable population. But it often does more than just that. At a psycho-spiritual level, participating in mission”“relieves the helper’s guilt, and sets their own psyche free through the declaration that “I did my part. I helped someone who needed it badly. I bought medicine for a sick man. I bought a meal for a beggar. I held babies at the orphanage. I helped build a house for a poor family.” It is all about me.”

What are our motivations for doing things? We initially do things because we want to do them. They make us feel good. They make us feel important. It is about us and what we can achieve. They give us a sense of identity. It is who we are.

However, we seem to eventually realize it is not just about us. It is not our identity. It is not who we are. It is more about how we interact with those we come across in life. We certainly can teach and help others but we have much to learn from others and can be helped by others too.

A few years back I was a stay at home dad. After about six months I became depressed. I felt I did not know who I was anymore. I had placed my identity in my work. I now realize that I am not my work. I am bigger than my work. I also came to realize that I am a conduit of God’s work if I let go and open to the presence and actions of God within. That is who I am. I do this best when I sit in the silence of my centering prayer practice twice per day.


The Desert: Inner Work

“Avoiding the deep questions and in-depth reflection is something North Americans are good at it; inner work seems optional in a society fixated on accomplishment, success, and achieving great things.”

“We are wired for compassionate service. But divesting ourselves from the inner spiritual life precludes us from doing helping work in ways that can catalyze real change. Mission and spirituality were meant to be intimate allies, but instead became divorcees.”

“The desert invites us to go into the vulnerable places inside to face and to let go of what we find, to leave the God we know and meet a God we don’t yet know and can’t possibly imagine. That is the heart of desert spirituality, forming us for the work of mission by forming us into the image of the God we can’t yet conceive of.”

“If we haven’t engaged our own pain, we cannot be fully present with another in their pain. If we haven’t reflected deeply on our own woundedness, the best we can do is see ourselves as whole and the other as broken.”

“The call is an invitation into the self as much as it is an invitation into the world. The call is a commissioning into formation as much as it is a sending outward.”

We perform our best outer work when we do our inner work. Our outer world is a function of our inner world. We need a balance between our inner and outer work. Too much inner work spawns no outer work. Too much outer work leads to burnout.

Our inner work teaches us who we are. We need to slow down. Silence teaches who we are. Silence teaches us the actions we need to take. Silence also teaches us when we should take no action. We are not always the best person to perform a particular task. Silence can teach us that our motivation for performing a task is not healthy for us and the person we think we will help.

Silence also reveals the parts of us we wish to hide and suppress. Sometimes these parts need to be dealt with. Other times the silence can heal them so we can move on.


Listen, Learn, Respect

“The Ethiopian Church began 1,700 years ago when “Christianity was still in its infancy, more than a thousand years prior to Europe colonizing the continent.”

“Forgetting that Christianity is both an African religion and a Western religion impacts how we do mission, how we understand our role and the people and places we visit.

“People who have been historically traumatized, held captive by the colonial imagination, told that “we” have the answers to “their” problems and internalized centuries of oppressive influences, are apt to be suspicious of foreigners showing up with answers.”

“At the core of one narrative is a message about who Africans and other non-Western people are, the soft articulation that the economically poor suffer so greatly because they can’t help themselves and need us (Westerners) to rescue them and solve their problems. The messages often also carry the claim that the Majority World needs development according to the Western template, in line with our way of seeing and our vision of what the world could, should, or must be.”

“Theologian and philosopher Kierkegaard noted that when you label someone, you negate them. The process of labeling negates individuality and personhood. People in grave predicaments in foreign countries are not powerless, inept, or incapable, passively waiting for rescue.”

Mission tends to look like American society: a race to complete tasks, accomplish projects, and get things done—prioritizing product over process—rather than bottom-up approaches that prioritize empowerment of the real experts on issues of poverty and injustice—local people.

We cannot and should not force ourselves and our ways on others. We must listen more to others and we must learn more from others. We must involve them in the process. People do not always want to be rescued. They may want to be helped but at the same time they want us to respect who they are and what they wish to accomplish.

Mission work involves slowing down and best leveraging the people you want to help. Their commitment and involvement will be a better indicator of the lasting and permanent change that may happen.

And most importantly, I l love what Ryan says, “Wherever we go in the world, God is already there. We don’t bring God or Jesus anywhere.” I think we too often forget this. God is and will always be there. It is now up to us to discern how best we can act when we see the actions that are currently in play. How can we best join them?


Cultural Intelligence

“Paul did the hard work of translation, interpreting his understanding of Jesus in a way that made sense to people. In Athens, he didn’t just show up and announce a message or speak about his own experience and his personal conversion to Christ. Instead he used Greek concepts and philosophy that people could understand and resonate with. In short, Paul contextualized the message of Jesus so that it would have relevancy to the worldview of the Athenians.”

“Part of the reason God was able to use Paul in such a powerful way was because of Paul’s cultural intelligence—his ability to take culture, both his own and that of others, into account.”

“Cultures are generally centered around one of two organizing principles, individualism or collectivism. Individualist cultures, which include North America, the majority of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, highly value personal freedom and independence. The locus of organization of these societies is the individual self, where the needs of the individual are more important than the needs of the group.”

“Collectivist cultures, including most of East and South Asia, Latin America, and Africa, are based on an organizing principle that values the group over the individual and emphasize the importance of community and family. Rather than placing highest significance on independence, collectivism emphasizes interdependence.”

We can learn a lot about how to mission by studying the Apostle Paul. Paul understood how to do mission because he did not force it upon others. Paul took his culture and the culture of others into account to best advance his mission work. He contextualized his mission work.

I was particularly intrigued that we must take into account the collectivist culture of East and South Asia, Latin America, and Africa. If we do not, we most likely will fail in our efforts. North America is an individualistic society. We need to make the shift to better understand the collectivist approach or we will not be able to help. We may even do more harm than good.


Next Steps

“Saying yes will be a matter of embracing a deep spirituality, rejoining action and contemplation, remarrying inner life and outward action, embracing the desert spaces, and allowing the false self to be transformed.”

I agree with Ryan. Without inner work, the outer work of mission will not be possible. When we better know who we are and can take this with us and be vulnerable, we will have a better chance at success.

I encourage you to read this honest, articulate and well researched book! You will better understand mission, its cultural context and the desperate need for inner work as part of its process.




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2 thoughts on “From The Inside Out: Book Review”

  1. I first glanced at this post and realized I needed to read it slowly and carefully. When I did read it this morning I thought, oh it’s talking about so-and-so…but no, your words and references to the book were speaking to me! A ton of food for thought here! Thank you for your review.

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