Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Putting Business to Work for God

I think that sometimes Christians are given more credit than they deserve. For both good and bad. I have heard Christians take credit for everything that is good about Western culture. “Our societies have progressed beyond societies of the world because of our Judeo-Christian heritage.” Maybe, but I doubt it. In the time of Jesus the Roman Empire was the envy of the world in terms of organization, technology and progress, and they did it without being Christian first. Many like to say it was because of the official acceptance of Christianity that the Roman Empire fell. Maybe, but I doubt that too.

In our modern age Christian missionaries are often blamed for all manner of things stemming from the days of rampant colonialism where Christian missions was simply a part of the process of “civilizing the natives” and bringing them into modernity. Missionaries are commonly blamed for destroying cultures and changing customs. It is almost like people say, “Natives would still be just like we like them—living in harmony with nature without any of the trappings of Western technology—if it weren’t for missionaries going in and messing things up.”

First of all, that is a very narrow and incorrect view of how things are. I could write an entire book dealing with the misconceptions bound up in that one statement. Secondly, I think people are giving missionaries too much credit for “messing things up.”

There are at least three dynamics in our world that I believe are much more responsible for the changing of cultures than missionaries. I even think the influence of missionaries may be far down the list from these “top three.” But this isn’t based on scientific research—just my own experience over the years. What are those three dynamics? Politics, the people themselves and business. I might say technology, but I am going to include that into the others. New technologies wouldn’t be brought to the peoples of the world if it weren’t for government programs or businesses selling the new products.

Politics. Politics is big. We know that political borders don’t represent ethnic boundaries, but they are important nonetheless. Government, political administration and strife over these things (war) effect people tremendously. Cultures are mixed and changed. It has been this way ever since man began defining boundaries and ruling over one another.

The people themselves. Most people don’t realize this but when you see “natives” in t-shirts it often is not the pushing of outside culture in as much as it is the sucking of it in. People see things on the outside that they don’t have and they want it. Contrary to popular belief, most so-called “stone age” tribes do NOT consider themselves to be living a dream in harmony with nature but instead loathe their own poverty and way of life and desire ways to get out of it.

Business. Businesses make money when they sell their services and products. They are effective when they create consumers. This is what marketing is all about—letting you know why you NEED our product. And taken as a whole, this is a powerful force in our world. I honestly believe that international business has exerted more cultural influence on non-Western peoples than traditional missionaries ever have.

Coca-Cola spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year just to try to sell their product. Their goal isn’t to try to make people into better people, but to make people drink Coke. So, it might be an easy choice for them to send an implicit message that in order to be cool, fashionable, sexy, etc. you should drink Coke. To talk about the real physical benefits of drinking Coke—well there aren’t any. It is full of sugar and will make you fat if you drink a lot of it. So, they don’t go there. Instead they go to image. Along with a thousand other companies, they implicitly teach people that how you look—how “cool” you are—is important.

Christian missionaries, and Christian workers in our own culture, have always faced an uphill battle in combating the messages coming out of our TVs and magazines when they advertise for such businesses. Instead of teaching people that how they look is important we want to teach them that they are intrinsically valuable and loved by God. We scramble to pick up the pieces of broken people who can’t live up to the cultural “ideal” put forth in all of these images.

And it’s hardly a fair fight if we look at it in the world’s perspective. Churches fight this battle with minuscule budgets and without being coordinated and connected to any or few other churches. Big companies like Coca-Cola have hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal and a very well-connected global network to get their message out. Perhaps only the Mormons come close to doing anything similar with their message. They have been doing BAM for a long time.

My point is this: Instead of always fighting the influence of non-Christian business in the world, we should use business to influence the world for God’s kingdom.

Non-Christian businesses would love to make the world full of consumers. They are successful in producing consumers when they make people dissatisfied with themselves and narcissistic. Narcissism (concern with our own image) is like a substance addiction that keeps us coming back and buying more drugs—it makes us perpetual consumers always needing to buy things that are really not good for us or, in the least, are unnecessary.

But why not make businesses work for Christ instead of against him? Why not start businesses that send out a good message—the right message? Why not have kingdom-minded Christians running international businesses around the world that do not lead people to narcissism but lead them to redemption? Why don’t we harness the ability to influence that exists in the business world and use that to expand God’s kingdom on earth?

I say let’s do it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Team BAM

Another concern people raise about BAM is that doing both business and ministry takes too much time. After all, even the apostles designated others to do certain things so that they could focus on teaching the Word of God.

And this is my response: Doing just ministry can also take too much time if one guy is trying to do the work of 10. Doing just business can take too much time if one person is trying to do the work of 12. To be successful in both ministry and business you need to have a team. The size of the team depends upon the size of the work at hand.

Actually, you could say that the twelve apostles and the seven who were chosen to serve the widows in Acts were all a part of the same team. They each had different roles, but they were getting it all done.

The same is true with BAM. If the business aspect takes one full-time person to “run” it and the ministry aspect also takes one full-time person to serve, then you should start out with a least a team of two people. You could both do some business things and both do some ministry things—however you decide to break it up according to your gifts and passions. But BAM isn’t intended to be a “one-man show.” It takes a team.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Non Profit--For Profit

One of the most common objections or "concerns" that people raise when it comes to BAM is that doing business will lead to greed or distract you from ministry in the pursuit of money. At first I was surprised when people brought this up. I thought to myself, "If you know me you HAVE to know that is NOT what I'm about." But some of these people didn't know me. And when thinking about others doing BAM, I might have the very same concern if I didn't know them that well. I might have that suspicion, "Is this just a fancy way for them to use God to get rich?"

Here in The Location stinginess is more of a cultural sin than greed. It's like, You shouldn't withhold your money from me--that's wrong! But it's not so wrong (in people's minds) to want more money all the time. But greed is a real thing and it certainly can and does affect us. We should not take it for granted that greed isn't going to raise its head and tempt us. Our defense should never just be, "Oh, I would never do that."

So if a Christian missionary starts a business with the goal/plan of doing BAM, what is going to keep them on the right track? If the business is successful then they would not need to be financially supported by anyone. Therefore, if they would start teaching heresy or if they dropped all ministry just to do business and make money, there would be no recourse of "pulling their funds" to stop it.

I think I have a way to help address this concern, and it is how we have set things up with our work here in The Location. That is to have non-profit ownership of for-profit enterprises.

That means that the missionary (or the minister, if done at home) is not the one who owns the business but is the one who runs it. He or she wouldn't be keeping all the money, nor would it be at their discretion to use as they please. Neither would there be shareholders who control the profits or who are expecting/desiring to get a return on their investment. Instead, all the profits would stay within the company and organization that owns the business.

In the US it is not against the law for non-profits (even tax-exempt organizations) to do profitable business. While some activities would still be taxed, the important thing is how profits are handled. For this set up, profits would not go in anyone's pockets but would be used for the stated purpose of the non-profit organization. So, it is possible for something like a church (a non-profit organization) to own a business like a coffee shop. The income, in addition to covering expenses, can be given to the missions budget or help feed the homeless or any other kind of ministry.

Along with non-profit ownership of for-profit enterprises comes oversight and accountability. I believe that in BAM we should have as thorough a ministry plan as we do a business plan, and vice versa. The board of directors can then hold the missionary(ies)/minister(s) accountable to not only run the business well, but to put excellence into the ministry as well.

So, imagine some possibilities:

A non-profit organization is created in the US and opens several different businesses. One is something like a YMCA center where people come to work out, play sports, take classes on all kinds of different things... and the staff are the ministers who not only interact with the customers but also offer special short courses on the Bible, do discipleship, and run children's programs. Another team of ministers start a coffee shop to reach out to the college and artsy crowd while also having a worship night once a week; hosting group meetings to overcome substance or pornography addictions; and partnering with a homeless mission to help provide food and volunteers on a regular basis. Another group of ministers start an organic farm in a more rural area and host area youth during the summer to help do the work of the farm while also discipling them. The income from the produce covers all expenses.

And I'm sure there are a lot more creative and more impacting ideas out there that others can/will think of. Perhaps this will help you to start brainstorming.

I have actually created a non-profit organization in the US to be the owner of our business here in The Location, and also future businesses we may start in the States that are associated with what we're doing over here. But it takes teams of people with a common vision to do all of this. I'm excited about the possibilities.

So, let's hear your ideas...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Not Really Welcome

I didn't launch this blog to try to solicit money, support or prayers. I am not trying to get any help from anyone by what I write on this blog. For a couple reasons. One, we don't really have any big financial needs. Two, I want to write for the sake of writing what I really think--not in order to have an effect that somehow benefits myself. Even if I were trying to raise funds or something I would still be honest... but I might choose different things to write about or wonder about the effect of things I said. I want to save myself from that whole conundrum so that I can just write and log some of my thoughts related to missions and things I've learned over the years. I would like to write a book someday and not only does this blog allow me to keep track of my thoughts and experiences, but it also allows me the opportunity to "pre-publish" these ideas, get feedback and critique before ever putting them into a book.

The reason I'm telling you all this right now is because right now would be a good time for me to ask for prayers. I don't want to put that on anyone--I myself don't spend a lot of time praying for anonymous people on the internet. But anyway...

There is a certain sadness... depression... that comes when you live in a situation where you know you are not wanted. This is not a general consensus kind of thing here in The Location. It does not come from all quarters--many are delighted to have me here. Others see me as an opportunity to make money. And then there are some... mostly government people... who view me with suspicion. For what reason? Just because I'm a foreigner to The Location.

There is a certain brainwashing that comes with official training here in The Location. All police go through it. Military, too. Any official that wants to climb the ladder within the government must study in a certain school of thought. And all of these people are trained to be wary of outsiders. They see religion as politics--it is just one way the imperialists use to further their political agenda. And this is taught at all the schools, too. Every single college, even if it is a business or technical college, must teach courses in "politics." And the message is clear--If you love your country then do not work with foreigners; do not join their religion; do not allow yourself to be warped by their thinking.

The funny thing is, though, that this very teaching is their way to warp young people's thinking to parrot their message. They use the word "unity" to silence any opposition. Anyone who would criticize the government is destroying national unity and therefore must not be a patriot.

The Location is a wonderful place and when tourists come to visit they typically are surprised to find it so relaxed and laid-back. And they usually go away with a positive view of the situation here. But it takes time to see the depth of the oppression.

Lately a number of things have been said against me and we have run into some problems on a number of different fronts. Others I know have been kicked out of The Location. It could happen to us, too. A couple years ago a faithful man (national) and co-worker of a friend was detained and disappeared, never to be seen again. Last night I had a dream about being detained by the police and having others with me arrested, too. In real life I was once detained by the police and interrogated for a couple hours. It was pretty intense and stressful. Now I have a family and the thought of something like that happening to me again, or to them, weighs on me. Not heavily... just a constant weight over a long period of time.

Anyway, I know that who I am and what I stand for is not readily welcomed here, and there is an associated stress with that knowledge. I have come to realize this. And with that stress, over time, comes a certain kind of mild depression. I am dealing with all of this right now.

This morning I am thinking about David and what he faced as King of Israel. He had his enemies, yet he praised the Lord. This is what I choose to do, too. God's plan will not be thwarted and I take joy in that.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Rut of Church

I have been thinking about BAM (Business as Missions) for a while now as I have been doing this here in The Location. Over the past three years I have thought about how BAM might work as a ministry model in the States. As I have stated before, being a missionary in a different country with a completely different culture has helped me to think about how some of these same principles might work back home.

I love the fact that here in The Location there aren't as many "ruts" as there are in America when it comes to Christianity and how we "do church." It is more of a clean slate here, but there are already some ruts in the national congregation. But back home we tend to think about ministry in the same terms that we've always thought about it. Usually, the only challenges are to do things better and to make things more culturally relevant. That's not bad, but we often improve things as we travel along those same ruts.

One of the ruts is "church." Now when asked, virtually every Christian will tell you that the church is the people not the building. We know that. We've been taught that. But in our everyday lives and in our subconscious thinking (where ruts live) we still refer to the church as two things it is not: One, a building or location. Two, a service.

We "do church" by putting on a service. When we think of what our church is like, we think about how the service is conducted. In a service, you have people who contribute and people who consume (view, take-in, receive, etc.). The contributors spend a lot of time each week getting ready to put on a show, er..., service for all the people they hope will gather to watch, er..., attend. But no matter how well we do our Sunday services (music, speaking, visuals, ambiance, etc.) we can't get around the rut of a starting time and an ending time. It is a service.

I'm not against services or meetings with set times. I just think that the Bible describes something so much better than simple services when it talks about the church.

I used to spend a lot of time talking trying to help people understand what the "church" is really supposed to be like. And I thought that if we understood what the church is and what the church isn't, then we can really become what the church is supposed to be. But I found that no matter how hard I tried to redefine "church" in people's minds, the old connotations would inevitably come right back and the subconscious assumptions would hold on as strong as ever.

So, you know what I want to do now? Stop using the word "church." Blasphemy? Well, I don't think so. No matter how much I tried to help people understand the real meaning of the Biblical word "church" they would always conform right back to our general society's connotative understanding of the word church. So, perhaps real blasphemy comes from re(mis)defining this word to mean something else. But I don't want to go down this path...

Actually, I'm not talking about replacing the word church with other, sexier terms like "assembly" or "faith community." Because, if we still do the same model of putting on Sunday services this is the typical conversation that would ensue: "What are you doing on Sunday?" "Oh, I'm going to North Pointe Faith Community." "Really? What is that?" "It's a church. I'm going to the 11 am contemporary service." Back to Square One.

So, I would like to do a real church by not only NOT calling it a church, but by doing a different model than the typical Sunday morning service.

People will then say, "Oh, that's not a church!" And that will be fine with me! If they mean to somehow illegitmize it as "not a real church" because it doesn't meet on Sunday or do the typical traditional Sunday morning service things... then those people will probably be just fine at their traditional Sunday morning places of worship. If they mean it is not a church according to people's connotative understanding of what "church" is--Great! That is what we're going for.

I feel the term "church" in the Bible is more descriptive than proscriptive. I think that if we are doing what God wants us to be doing as his followers and in fellowship with other believers, then we are the church--it doesn't matter if we're called "church" or not.

As an undergraduate student at the state university I was very involved in a Christian campus ministry. We had fellowship together throughout the week, had Bible studies, did weekly service projects, did on-campus evangelism, had weekend events and during school breaks went on mission trips together. Never once did we meet on Sunday mornings during the regular course of the semester (well, maybe at a retreat), but different people attended different "churches" on the weekends.

When I would go to "church" I hardly knew anyone sitting in the pews around me as we viewed the same service together on Sunday morning and as we passed by each other on the way out the door shaking the minister's hand. But during the week, I regularly prayed together, had fellowship, studied the Bible and served together with many people in the campus ministry. But no one would dare call it a church, even though it was a community of Christians who were in fellowship with one another as we sought God, grew in our faith and served the community around us.

There is a whole other can of worms to be opened when discussing the "first day of the week" deal that has had Christians meeting together on Sundays since the Bible times. There is a lot to say on this topic. I am one, however, who believes that biblical precedent isn't binding as is biblical commandment. And even if precedent were binding then we might as well take the precedent of Acts 2 where the early Christians met together every day in public and in their homes.

So if I were to start something in the States, what would this new model look like? My ideas are not yet complete, but I will share some in coming posts... For now, do you have any ideas? Please share.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Infiltrate or Isolate?

You already know where I stand. One look at the life of Jesus and we clearly see he didn't isolate himself or his disciples from the world or society around them. I think his actions were completely intentional not just for ministry (it is the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy) but for training his disciples for ministry. In fact, I devoted an entire blog post to this aspect of Jesus' training approach in The Crux of Discipleship.

I was serving as a "missionary on campus" one semester when I was in America and I re-took the Perspectives class. (If you have never taken this course I completely recommend it!) We had one guest speaker who is a big-name Seminary professor there. He taught and at the end of the class was asking what is it really going to take for us to win our communities for Christ. People gave a few Sunday-school answers about loving people more and getting out there and sharing our faith with non-Christians. Most of the answers were basically about doing things more and not differently. Then the professor said that his problem is that he spends all of his time around Christians.

That comment hit me like a rock and while I understood his situation and all, I felt that something just isn't right. I'm sure countless Bible college professors, preachers and ministers could say the same thing: They spend all of their time with Christians and people in the church. And without realizing it they are unintentionally discipling all of their Bible college students to graduate and do the same thing.

I was reading a book by a well-known pastor in Dallas and he told a story about a conversation he had with a non-Christian lady on an airplane. I was thinking that it seems like I've heard hundreds of stories by preachers and Christian authors about their conversations with people on airplanes. Then it hit me--when such people fly it is the only time that they have meaningful contact with people who are not Christians or who are not a part of the church community.

And so I'm thinking that all of our "big guns"--preachers and Bible college professors--are found only deep within the Christian community, and they're teaching all of the "little guns" to go out there and evangelize while offering no example and giving the reason/excuse that they don't spend any time around people who are not Christians.

Is Satan laughing, or what?

Jesus didn't spend all of his time around those who didn't need him the most. Maybe it was because his heart was to really help people far away from God. Maybe it was because he wanted his disciples to have experience doing this kind of ministry so it wouldn't be such a foreign concept to them after he sent them out. Maybe it was both.

Salt doesn't have much use if it's in the salt-shaker most of the time.

How can we do things (church, discipleship, Bible training) differently (not just better) so as to infiltrate the world with God's people and not isolate ourselves from the world?

New Model

Aaron at The Road Less Traveled made a post about Bible colleges and their necessity a few days ago. It has generated a great discussion with many contributors. I think it is a discussion we need to be having. Below are some of my comments I posted there. Please check out the entire discussion...

I think that if at the end of this discussion we only come up with, "We need to reform our Bible colleges and do it better," and "We need to change our churches and do it better," then in the end nothing will change very much. Guys, we aren't the first ones to see weaknesses in both Bible colleges and churches. People have been saying these things for years.

I think what is needed is a new model. Both for Bible college and for church. (Aaron understands new models for church!) I think we should start new churches that have in them a training (discipleship) program. In fact, I think that "program" might just be the way to start a new church. I wrote a lot about Jesus' model for discipleship in my blog, The Koffi House. I won't repeat it here in the comments of Aaron's blog, but you can check it out if you like. I do think that a good discipleship training program should have a major focus on our behavior, understanding and ability and a minor focus on academic knowledge, not the other way around.

Yes, we will always have our Christian liberal arts schools and other colleges that are progressing in that direction. Some may want to study theology and get their PhD's from those institutions. God bless them. We don't have to dismantle those things in order to start a new model. But what we are going for here is something that will...

  1. Be reproducible (meaning virtually every church could copy it).
  2. Demolish the clergy/laity distinction that is upheld by our current models of both church and Bible college.
  3. Be accessible to all kinds of Christians, in any location, who aren't quitting their jobs to go to Bible college.
  4. Train people to live, love and talk like Jesus, not like the Pharisees.
  5. Infiltrate non-Christian communities with our disciples (and disciplers) rather than isolate the disciples from the larger non-Christian community, only sending them on “forays” into that world.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Businessman Christian

I tend to loathe the "How to be rich and be a Christian" movement that is in certain sectors of Christianity these days. You can call it the health and wealth gospel. But, actually, what I am talking about is bigger than the health and wealth gospel movement. It is the line of teaching that aims to justify "building bigger barns" that Jesus warned us about. And I know that saying this automatically offends many of the wealthy people I know, some of whom support missions.

Personally, I don't think it is wrong to own anything or to have money. We have to be careful not to condemn wealth but to condemn greed. But it seems like this argument, "It's not wrong to have money, only to be greedy," is often the very mask that covers up greed. It is sad that we have to waste energy in our lives or in the church trying to justify the wealth we have.

If we think to ourselves, "I give my 10% to God, so I can do whatever I want with the rest!" then we miss the heart of Jesus. We miss it.

I am not one to be dogmatic about a 10% line, increasing our giving by 1% a year, etc. I know for some 10% is an unimaginable sacrifice. For others, giving 10% means sacrificing luxuries, not necessities. And it is to this latter group that I am referring in this post. Is the 90% that we're living on still more than we need?

I tend to be one who promotes living more simple lives, consuming less, and giving more. Kind of like food. Gluttony is the sin of overeating--eating more than our bodies need. Just because I have lots and lots of food doesn't exempt me from gluttony just because I only ate half of it and gave the rest to the local homeless mission. No, I should only eat what my body needs regardless of how much food is on the table.

So, I tend to think the same way when it comes to wealth. I should only consume as much as I need, regardless of how much I make.

I write these things because I want to warn people to be aware. Beware of those books, seminars, conferences, classes and audio Cd's that give us a lot of solid financial and accounting advice, but mask greed. I don't want us to hide behind a truth that it isn't wrong to have wealth when our hearts are more excited about that wealth than serving Christ. That doesn't mean we throw away good accounting and financial planning, but it means we root out greed whenever it sprouts.

I want to warn people that this is NOT what BAM is about. It is not about making ourselves wealthy. It is all about furthering the mission of God in our world.

If I call myself a "Christian businessman" then what I am saying is that I am a businessman who happens to be a Christian. The word "Christian" is the adjective modifying the noun "businessman." So, it means that I am a businessman first, Christian second.

Perhaps it would be better, then, to call myself a "Businessman Christian." I am a Christian who happens to be a businessman. "Christian" is not just an adjective modifying my identity--it is the root of who I am. It just so happens that I do business. I am a follower of Christ first, and a businessman second. That means I do business for Christ--not try to make Christ do business for me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

BAM and Christian Business

Thank you to Katdish for bringing this up in the comments on my post The Approach.

Is BAM the same thing as a "Christian Business"?

In my hometown you can look through the Yellow Pages and will see numerous ads with the Christian fish symbol on it, a cross or sometimes a scripture. Sometimes someone gets clever and spells the word sun (that fiery ball in the sky) as "Son" (that's right, the Son of God--Jesus). These are all "codes" to let us know that the owner is a Christian. Many Christians will see these things, pick up on the code, and become excited to find a fellow Christian. When it comes time to use their service (auto repair, dentist, lawyer, etc.) they will choose that Christian business over the other ones.

Not too different is when a businessman joins a church. He then gets a hold of the church directory and promptly sends out letters or e-mails letting everyone know about his business. Or, he makes an announcement in church that he will give a special deal to all the members of the church who want to come purchase his goods or services. Most people are so excited that they are on "the inside" of a good deal that they don't realize that this guy is likely doing this to increase his business, not because he wants to "bless" the church.

Now, I don't think these things are inherently wrong. I think that depends on the heart of the business man or woman and what their purpose is. I cannot judge them. I think we often feel jaded, though, because we feel like people are using God. And I think many times people do. They have put a Christian label on their sign to drum up more business in areas where there are a lot of Christians. They are using God to make more money.

BAM (Business as Missions/Ministry) is quite the opposite. The idea is to use business to impact people for God, not using God to improve business. Profitability is important because it is necessary for sustainability. The real "bottom line," however, is kingdom impact. Our main purpose is to serve God and to expand his kingdom. Therefore, we try to do business with those who are NOT Christians. This is not to try to trick them or get their money, but in order to get to know them and build a relationship. In the course of a relationship we share our faith in Christ in a natural way.

Therefore, I think most BAM businesses would NOT use Christian labels or symbols because the goal isn't to get into the Christian community but to get into the non-Christian community.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Effective Missionary

An article I wrote a few years ago...

I have been in The Location for a number of years now. It doesn't seem that long. At the same time, it is hard to imagine that all of my experiences have been crammed into this short time. Each day I am becoming more and more accustomed to living here and fitting into the society. There are still times, however, when I feel very “foreign” to the culture here.

I now look back on my first few months here in The Location as a “childhood,” of sorts, when everything was brand new to me. As I have grown in my ability to speak the language and to understand how things work here, I have come to see that some of the assumptions and conclusions I made early on regarding The People and their culture were incorrect. Other early ideas weren’t incorrect, but not as significant as I once thought. And, finally, I am learning many things from first-hand experience that help me to better understand this culture rather than holding to many of the false assumptions and ideas within the foreign community about The Location's culture.

Recently I was reflecting about serving here in The Location as a missionary. What would I do differently to prepare myself to work here now that I’ve been here for a few years?

I decided I wanted to be a missionary when I was a sophomore in college. After graduating and working for a while, I decided I wanted to get some specific missionary training so that I would be prepared to serve on a foreign field. I subsequently enrolled in a particular seminary's Master of Art’s program in Missions. I spent two years there and another two years finishing up my thesis. I greatly value my time at seminary and learned an incredible amount of information and ideas that have been very helpful to me as a missionary.

At the same time, I wish I could have done a few things differently. I prepared myself in some areas that have proved to be helpful and others not so helpful. But I also did not really prepare myself in a number of areas that would have made me much more effective in my ministry.

I studied Cultural Anthropology so that I would know how to approach different cultures and different worldviews, how to understand them and how to communicate with them. That was good. But I know I would be a much more effective missionary if I had learned how to control my anger better. I never thought of myself as an “angry” person. It never really came out until I came over here. I am here to try to help this country and there are so many things that are blatantly not “up to standard.” The people here are not really my “peers” and I am already weird and different in their eyes. Consequently, it is easy for me to show my anger and displeasure in front of them. Showing anger and displeasure, while not a good thing, is still pretty normal for us in America. In The Location it makes you lose respect and discredits you in the minds of people. God’s kingdom could be expanded better by me if I learned how to quiet my heart, be content, and not show my frustration.

I studied Greek and Hebrew a year a piece so that I could understand how to best interpret the Bible. I loved those classes and would never think of going back and not taking them! In the future I hope this knowledge will have more practical application in my ministry, but to date it has really had very little use in my witness here. On the other hand, had I learned the discipline of studying my Bible every day, being in God’s Word and having his Word in my heart I know that I would be a much more effective missionary. Knowing about God’s Word and knowing his Word are as different as knowing about God versus knowing God. If I were the kind of person that had his Word on my mind, in my heart and on my lips by disciplining myself to be immersed in the scriptures every day, I would be much more effective in my witness here.

I studied Leadership and dissected the difference in meaning between leaders and managers, between mission statements and vision statements and between contextualization and syncretism. This was good… but it would have been more helpful had I learned the skill of spending time with people, listening to them, talking with them and getting to know them. Being the busy visionary has not helped me be an effective missionary when taking time to get to know people here would.

I studied Missiology and learned about missionary methods, approaches and strategies for evangelism among unreached peoples in ways that God’s kingdom will subsequently expand rapidly without hindrance. Again, this was very helpful and insightful. But I know that I would be a much better missionary if I had learned the practice of prayer and fasting, depending and calling on God to work miracles that I could never do. My first reaction to a kingdom “barrier” is typically a smart and fancy missiological strategy. But I would be a much more effective instrument of God if I would react and persist in prayer for the spiritual difference I am attempting to make.

I studied Church Growth and how pastors should lead their churches past the “200 barrier” or past the “1,000 barrier.” But I would have done better to address personal issues of over-sensitivity, pride and self-pity. I studied Ministry to Muslims, but would have done better to learn how to really stave off sexual temptation. I studied Linguistics, which has been very helpful and profitable. But I should have spent more time learning to have a close walk with Christ and how to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I would be a much more effective missionary if I possessed these fruits of the Spirit in greater quantity.

Our effectiveness as servants of God flows out of our relationship with God. That is because our wisdom, strength and riches, in all its measure, could not possibly begin to accomplish what we are attempting, and what only God can accomplish through us. The battle we are fighting is a spiritual one, not a worldly one. The difference we are trying to make is a spiritual difference.

Jeremiah says (9:23-24), “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.”

Amen. Please don’t take the above as criticism of those who trained me, or who failed to train me. It is not. Rather, it is a criticism of myself and my way of thinking as I was preparing to become a missionary.

When it comes down to it, if I actually live in relationships with people (and not just make teaching appearances), people will be much more affected by my example than they ever will be by my teaching. What they see in my life will be more powerful than what comes out of my mouth. In fact, how I live my life in the quiet, private and trying moments will prove whether or not people should believe what I say. When I understand and know the Lord, and when I also exercise kindness, justice and righteousness in my life, then I will be an effective missionary.

Still Plodding

January 2009 was a terrific time for us here as we had lots of good news and great things happening. February was pretty good, too.

But now the bad news has been hitting us in March.
  1. Paperwork on hold.
  2. Resistance from some local officials because of our Christian faith.
  3. Land problems (people claiming some of what we bought was really theirs).
  4. Some interpersonal problems with a couple of our employees.
  5. Getting sick.

Still plodding. Thank you for any prayers offered.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Approach

In regards to my thoughts from the Jesus' Discipleship series, the Dependency Mission series, What is BAM?, Go Inter, National Tentmakers and the Blessings of Restricted Access, I wanted to write a little more in summary of our approach here at The Location...

1. Business as Missions--using business to (1) gain access to the country and unreached peoples, (2) have a way to associate with people as non-clergy and in an understandable fashion, thus building relationship where the good news can be shared, (3) have a positive economic and physical effect on the lives of the poorest peoples, and (4) create a sustainable model that doesn't continually depend on outside sources of funds to operate.

2. Discipleship Training--training young interns in a discipleship fashion similar to how Jesus trained his 12 disciples (community living, doing ministry together in the community, responding to events/issues, giving them opportunities) along with an intensive Bible study program and agricultural (or vocational) courses. Training them to beware of the Christian ministry "ruts" that too many young passionate believers fall into: Using Christianity as a way to get rich and move away from the needy, or to get respect, titles, authority, etc. Instead, training them to work with their own hands and gain the respect of outsiders.

3. National Tentmaking--Setting up qualified disciples of Christ in unreached places where they can do business to support themselves and do ministry as well, planting communities of Christ-followers wherever they go.

All three of these things have to work together. Without one of the three, there would be some major gaps.

Now, I want to do this on a larger scale and for a longer time before I really start promoting this model. I know there are some lessons still to learn. But I really believe in this approach for The Location.

Actually, I am also asking myself... Why wouldn't this approach work in America or elsewhere? Your thoughts?

GUT and Theology

Some comments I made in a discussion about theological creeds...

What we call creeds and confessions arise from systematic theology--our attempts to organize and summarize the message of scripture. The problem with systematic theology is the assumption that we know enough (that God has revealed enough) to put it all together. But what if God just told us what we needed to know without explaining it all to us? Does it mean that we are somehow compromising the truth because we refuse to be dogmatic (not refuse to discuss and consider different possibilities) about our systematic theological constructs?

We are in a ship navigating a sea and we can see the continents and avoid the islands as we travel to our destination. But is it necessary to know all the landscape of the ocean floor in order to get to our destination? Is it God's will for us to arrive at our destination or to know all the mysteries of the deep? Even so, I still think it is good to explore those mysteries... just don't be dogmatic about them.

What God wants us to know the most is the clearest in scripture. These are the things necessary to navigate through the ocean and arrive at our destination. And these are the things we must hold onto firmly without budging, unlike the mysteries of the deep. Yes, I know it isn't that sophisticated. But I truly believe that sometimes our goal is theological sophistication. We pride ourselves in being able to talk theologically about God, but not in being able to live our lives according to God's Way. We would do better to give up our theological pride and live with simple faith, fighting temptations in our life and serving others.

In physics, of all the things that we do know, there are a number of theories that we can't really prove. But we still use them. One is the model of the atom. We are most familiar with the common Bohr model of the atom. But it is not complete and doesn't answer all the questions. A better model is the quantum model. But they are all models. Gravity is another one. We don't know for sure what it is. We have Einstein's General Theory of Relativity that proposes curvature in the space-time continuum. It is a model. Perhaps one day we can prove it; but not yet. The Big Bang, anti-matter, the density of the universe and the particle nature of light can be described in certain terms. However, we are still seeking a so-called Grand Unified Theory. The GUT would tie it all together.

So far the GUT eludes us. However, that doesn't mean that our universe doesn't work or add up. Physicists are confident that it does all add up... we just don't know how yet. Does it matter how it all adds up? Absolutely. Does it matter that we KNOW how it all adds up? No, not really. But it is interesting.

Through Stone Walls

Somebody once asked William Carey what made him successful in ministry. His answer? "I plod."

I have been doing a lot of plodding here in The Location. And I'm not bragging about plodding. There's nothing fun about it. There's nothing telling me for sure that my plodding will lead to any success. Mostly, I'm plodding because I don't know what else to do and don't feel that God has called me to do anything else. I am in this for the long haul.

We have been waiting for an important piece of paperwork from the government for two and a half years. (Three pieces, actually.) The government promises that an answer will be given in 15 days of submission of our proposal, and that the whole process will be completed in 45 days. Here we are roughly 900 days later and now they are telling us they are "putting it on hold" just when we thought we were about to finalize everything. So, what to do? Plod.

I know many others would have given up by now. And I'm not saying that is the wrong thing to do. However, I have never been one who has felt like obstacles were signs from God that we shouldn't continue down a certain path. I tend to believe that God makes us strong to meet those obstacles, overcome them, and then glorify him. I think a few hundred thousand former slaves of Egypt might agree with me after they finally climbed up the opposite shore of the Sea of Reeds.

I once heard a former missionary say, "I no longer believe in a God who leads us through open doors. I believe in a God who leads us through stone walls."

Me too.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Burden of Proof

I really don't have any conscious "rules" for my own blog as far as what I will or will not post. I guess I try to keep it about things relating to missions, church planting and evangelism. But sometimes I'll write about other stuff just for the fun of it. I recently wrote an extended comment on a blog post talking about Christian apologetics. After posting it I thought I would copy what I wrote and share it here, for what it's worth. So, here it is...

Sometimes I feel like we try to prove Christianity is true as if God himself was dead. We look down our nose at the subjective reasons people believe because we have more objective arguments we have come to understand. We ignore the fact that most of us “Objectivity Snobs” did not BECOME Christians after considering objective reasons, but after experiencing subjective events. However, over time, we were cemented in our faith after thinking about it objectively.

The same is true for people in other religions… their reasons for believing in their religions in the first place are mostly subjective (or regional/cultural) too. So, we tend to think that the only thing that will bump them over to our faith is an objective reasoning approach they have never considered since they only have believed for subjective reasons. I think this may be true some of the time and it is worthwhile making an objective appeal.

But remember the last thing Jesus said in Matthew? “I am with you always…” If Jesus is with us, and if that is really TRUE, then we can assume he is with us to do something, not just observe us. He is not dead. He is not just a theory. He is alive and active. And if that is the case, then I think God’s actions will and SHOULD influence people to believe in him.

I know without a doubt my grandpa lived. Why? I might explain objectively that if he had not lived then I wouldn’t be here. (Which would be completely legitimate and true.) But long before I ever considered the objective truth of that statement I would have said with passion that my grandpa once lived because I KNEW him. It was my very experience with my grandpa that makes his existence the most relevant to me. Now, if I want someone else to meet and know my grandpa... well, it is too late. He is dead. But if we introduce people to Jesus… shouldn’t we think that Jesus will somehow interact with them UNLESS he is NOT really alive?

But we have this sneaking feeling that God will not do any personal revealing anytime we tell someone about him. So, because we can’t know that God will give someone an experience with him or not, we go to our more dependable and reliable objective reasons for believing in God. Because God is not reliable we do not depend on him.

I think it would do us well, though, to remember that Jesus called his disciples to be witnesses. Not lawyers. Not judges. Not jurors. But witnesses. What do witnesses do? Testify to what they have seen and heard. Testify to their experience. And it is up to people to decide if the witness is credible or not.

The burden of proof for God lies with God. I am called just to be a witness.

The Blessings of Restricted Access

I have often said that our situation here in The Location (a "closed" country) forces us to do things right. And this is not something I ever thought about before I came here.

Here in The Location...

We are not the ones up in front leading things.
We do not run big ministry programs.
We do not build church buildings.
We do not pay preachers.
We do small discipleship rather than mass evangelism.
We do Business as Missions.
We set up National Tentmakers.

I always thought of working in "closed," "restricted access," or "creative access" countries as simply an obstacle to overcome. I wanted to work in such a place over an "open country" because I knew that many of the most unreached peoples are living in restricted access countries. So, for me, doing other things besides traditional missions was simply an "evil necessity" because of the political situation. That is, we do business or tentmaking or development projects because we have to do it just to get in, but if this country was open, we'd dispose of those other things and just do ministry.

I don't view it this way any longer.

I discovered that the things I felt I was "forced" to do because of restricted access were actually the best things that a place like The Location needs from someone like me--a missionary from the West. And so I also discovered that the other things I might be doing if this were an "open" country are sometimes NOT the best things to be doing. My situation caused me to "think outside the box" when I was mostly used to traditional missionary approaches I had seen in places like Mexico, Haiti and Latin America and heard about from places like India and Thailand.

Some of the things I learned:
  • That as a foreigner I should not do things the nationals can do, but try to contribute in ways that are mostly impossible for the nationals to do without outside help.
  • That building things like church buildings and Bible colleges tends to institutionalize Christianity as a religion rather than growing God's church as a living community.
  • That for the most part we ignore the idea of "The Priesthood of All Believers" in our practices both at home and on "the mission field."
  • That sustainability and reproducibility are definite and realizable goals and not just long-term hopes.
  • That not only is discipleship a bigger need than evangelism (in our popular understanding of those two things), but that real evangelism is discipleship (in Jesus' understanding).
  • That slow, deliberate growth is strong and ultimately more effective.
  • That it is right for Christians to be deliberate about being in the world rather than isolating ourselves from the world, even though isolation is our pattern around the world.

So, for me, restricted access has become an opportunity to learn how to do things the right way. Another thing I have found myself saying often is that if The Location were to open up, begin offering missionary visas and inviting Christian workers, I would not change my approach to what we're doing here. It would basically stay the same.

Now I feel that even if God calls me to work in an open country (or in America) I would still do ministry in this fashion. That is a strong emphasis on discipleship and leadership training; indigenous leadership from the earliest stages of church planting; business as ministry that helps those who are poor to be able to feed and support themselves; setting up national tentmakers; and an emphasis on simple organic church communities that are easily reproducible and that live out the Priesthood of All Believers concept.

We should not view "tentmaking" or Business as Missions as a necessary evil for working in "closed" countries. Instead, we should consider how these approaches might work in more open places, too.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Next Week...

Dear faithful readers (both of you),

In The Location things like internet access and electricity are not very reliable. Today the power is off all day long. I think they're working on transformers or something. Anyway, I'm posting on battery power now and it is about to run out.

So, I have some things to share in my next post, but it won't be today. Sorry. It'll have to wait until Monday. I'm going up into the mountains now to lead a Bible study, and Sunday is full of activities... though if there is power I might sneak the post in tomorrow.

Thank you for your patience. Thank you for visiting the Koffi House.


Dependency Mission 07

A particular organization that is known worldwide has a program where they collect gift boxes filled with various novelties from people in the West to give as Christmas gifts to people in impoverished countries. A friend of mine here at The Location was contacted by a representative for this organization in a neighboring country. The rep was going to give my friend (a national and a Christian leader) charge of 200 boxes to distribute in The Location.

After bringing the boxes into the country my friend proceeded to give them to every family in his community who was of the same tribal group as him. These were his "target" people, so to speak, since he spoke their tribal language and had led people to Christ mostly from his same tribe. He hoped that by "showing the free love of Christ" people would be interested in following him. He wanted people to see that he was giving these things to them free of charge and that there would be no strings attached.

These activities almost got him put into prison. After distributing the boxes and being interviewed by the local television station (where he answered the question as to the boxes origin: from God) he was called in by the police. So was his wife. They endured long interrogations about the boxes, their involvement, their association with foreigners, the source of the boxes and what they were trying to accomplish. My friend was able to escape imprisonment but the police watched his every move from then on. They viewed him with suspicion and as a threat. Why?

In The Location to give someone something for free is to try to influence them to agree with you about something. That could be religion or politics. In fact, to the government authorities here, religion IS politics. In their eyes, spreading religion (specifically Christianity--the "Western Religion") is how foreigners (specifically "imperialist Americans") make poor peoples oppose their own government and become traitors to society.

So, those who give things away so easily will be forced out. Those who receive things will be persecuted.

In The Location a prevalent question national Christians are asked is, "What did you get to become a Christian?" They don't ask IF the person received something, just WHAT did they receive. It is assumed they did. For what other reason would they become a Christian? It is assumed that the reasons are: Money. Opportunity. Health care. English education. A job. Unfortunately, for too many, those are the exact reasons.

I have often said that our situation here in The Location (a "closed" country) forces us to do things right. In the next post I will share what I mean....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dependency Mission 06

"What's wrong with dependency? If we are doing something to help people, isn't that a good thing?"

I've heard from some people that have not liked what I've had to say about dependency (not on this site). It is interesting. Usually they will tell me about some mission organization or approach they know of or have experience with. They receive my critique as a condemnation. It is like they feel you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater so they therefore decide to keep the bathwater.

My purpose is not to condemn anything people do out of the goodness of their hearts when done in all honesty and integrity. At the same time, our "good intentions" do not exempt us from being intelligent and learning to see if there are better ways. Jesus said we must be as innocent as doves AND as smart as serpents.

So, to counter another misconception, I don't believe it is wrong or bad for people like us to give gifts to people in poor countries. I'm not against that. That is not what I'm talking about in my Dependency Mission series. I'm talking about mission programs that simply form a never-ending conduit of foreign funds to subsidize normal every-day physical needs of those in poverty or to sponsor native evangelists in an ongoing fashion.

I am not against using foreign funds to address emergency needs and I know of several organizations who raise money for such situations around the world. They do good work. However, the nature of an emergency (flood, tsunami, famine, refugee camp, etc.) is that it is not ongoing, and such organizations are helping people until they can achieve stability again.

Neither am I against using foreign funds to start up projects in unreached places that have the goal of sustainability. It might take a while to get to the point where they can support themselves, but it is the goal and the plan. This is not unlike my own situation.

Also, I want everyone to know that I am not in the least against native missionaries! I am all for national evangelists, national pastors and national Christians doing ministry in and among their own people. In fact, I would be opposed to any organization that insisted only foreigners from the West with seminary training can do ministry on the field. That would be terrible! I am simply against unending sponsorship of national Christian workers. Why?

The biggest reason is that it is not reproducible.

If I support ten national evangelists to go and plant churches in unreached villages in The Location, then perhaps we will have helped plant ten churches. But what happens when 30 other nationals want to plant churches? Two things. They will see the others who have planted churches and assume that the only way to plant a church is to be sponsored by a foreigner. Then they will either try to find funding from foreigners or they will give up and not do anything. Our model then becomes a barrier to church growth.

If the only churches we plant are the ones that are funded from outside sources then church growth will go very slowly. How can it be reproduced on the field without outside help? It would be very difficult if not impossible. And if someone came along and planted a church without a big budget, but did it in a low-key way (say, a house church), then the national leaders of the big foreign-subsidized churches would likely say, "You're not a REAL church." And, yes, this really does happen.

In the history of the church most major expansions of the church have come through people movements where many people come to Christ in a rather short period of time (history-wise). And such movements have occurred when the peoples of those places have shared the gospel and started churches on their own. They haven't depended upon outside sources for the expansion of the movement, even if it might have been initiated by outside Christians. If I am going to light a forest on fire it would take a very long time to go around and ignite every single tree. But if I lit one tree on fire and it spread to other trees on its own, then the mission will be best accomplished.

This is reproducibility. It means that anything we as foreigners do in ministry we do it in a way that nationals can easily copy and do on their own. If they are dependent upon us for funding for any kind of ministry they do, then it will not be possible for them to reproduce. Then the only thing that will happen will be what we (foreigners) can do or what we can fund. Our good works just might end up being a barrier to the spread of the gospel.

Your thoughts?

Tomorrow I will share some stories from The Location about well-intentioned programs...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dependency Mission 05

If we are going to support a particular mission program that works with the poor one of the things we should research is whether or not they are creating dependency in their efforts to lift people out of poverty. We can certainly help someone out of poverty by simply giving them an unending source of money. But then we have only made them dependent upon us for that "lifeline" and it could never go much beyond our own means. It is better if we can give them ways to escape poverty without creating dependency upon rare outside sources.

If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.

Do you remember that proverb? It's a good one. Paul teaches us in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12:

"We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat."

He also says in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12:

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."

Paul's goal is not that people would simply become recipients of missionary's help, but that they would be better workers than before, because of their faith, and that they would be able to contribute, not just consume.

Many people talk about two types of mission work--helping people spiritually (evangelism, discipleship, church planting, etc.) and helping people physically (relief efforts, feeding programs, micro financing, agriculture, water systems, etc.) And we tend to think of dependency in the realm of physical help. But dependency can happen in two ways:

1) Making people dependent upon us for their physical needs.
2) Making people dependent upon us for the spiritual needs.

If we do a program where we feed people--Are there ways to help them to be able to feed themselves?

If we do a church plant where we teach/preach to people--Are there ways to train a few to be able to teach themselves?

If we send out national evangelists and support them with our funds--Are there ways to help them to be able to support themselves or for the local churches to be able to support them?

These are the questions and issues we must address to get around creating dependency.

Tomorrow I'll attempt to answer the question: "What's wrong with dependency? If we are doing something to help people, isn't that a good thing?"

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dependency Mission 04

One mission agency that collects funds to support native missionaries built a Bible college to train them before sending them out. They visited many villages asking them each to send students to come study and then they would be supported as native missionaries for a certain monthly amount. Each village could send two students for free. What happened? People who weren't even Christians were enrolling in the school. It was free. They could learn to lead religious services for another religion if someone was going to pay them to do it. They said all the right things and went through all the right hoops. We don't know if the administrators ever found out or if they were concerned about this problem.

In The Location a certain missionary worked with the pastor of one of the local churches. He noticed this pastor was always asking for things from all the foreigners who lived in town. He would ask for tiling for his house/church, instruments, a digital camera, a computer, a printer, a motorcycle, money to buy land, money for English school, money for his son to get married, etc. The missionary tried to give the pastor opportunities to work during the week so that he could earn enough money to purchase these things for himself. The pastor spent most of his time at home during the week without much to do other than going around and asking people for money. When he finally had an opportunity to work with a certain employer, he declined because he found other missionaries who were willing to just give him all the stuff he asked for without having to work. Now he has a computer at his house that he doesn't know how to use.

An Arab travel guide in the "Holy Land" noticed that many of the groups coming over on tours were American Christians who had little experience in other cultures. Many of them were nervous and excited about meeting a real live Muslim for the first time in their lives. And as a result, they would often try different subtle and some not-so-subtle ways to evangelize him. This man discovered that if he "converted" to Christianity he would get bigger tips than when he wouldn't convert. Consequently, every time he led a group that tried to share Christ he would act like he didn't know anything, pray a prayer of acceptance with them, and "convert" to Christianity. He was able to make a lot of money.

The last story is more of a "deceive those suckers" than a dependency story. But many more stories could be told.

It seems to me that the danger in the common mission agency practice of giving lots of things to poor people on the "mission field" is in creating a welfare state. You know what I'm talking about. People in our own country don't want to go out and get a job because it is easier just to live on government assistant checks. Then we have to ask the question of whether or not those assistance programs are working or just continuing and adding to the problem.

Most mission agencies (that are honest, and I believe most of them are honest) would be aghast at the thought that their programs are contributing to such a "welfare state" type situation. The problem is that we often don't realize how little it takes to do this. You see, if in the US a person got a government assistance check for $100 a month, it wouldn't be enough to live on. They would still need to go out and get a job. But half of that amount (what we might spend on one nice dinner) is more than enough for people to live on in many of the poorest countries of the world. It is not wrong to be generous, but we simply need to be aware of the potential negative situation we might be creating or contributing to. Are there better ways to help them help themselves rather than simply making them dependent upon us indefinitely?

Do you have a story? If so, please share.

Tomorrow I'll share some scriptures on the subject of dependency...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dependency Mission 03

I think it would behoove all of us who give to missions to learn ways to evaluate mission approaches to see if what we're supporting is making the kind of difference we want it to make. We need to educate ourselves.

I have seen it myself. Missionaries who come to town (meaning here on "the field") with big budgets and big programs can generate quite a stir. Everyone loves them. They do grand things and give a lot to many people. They gather big crowds. Many people want to get as close as they can to them. The missionaries see all these people coming and they praise God for how the Spirit is impacting so many. They sometimes boast to others about "all that God is doing" in their ministry.

Usually what follows is jealousy and infighting among the locals regarding who is closest to the missionary. Why? Because it never was about what God was doing among the people. It was about money. Easy money. The people found the missionary to be an easy source of money, help, education, etc. In other words: a sucker. "We'll do the Christian dance for you if you give us money." And many people in poor countries view charitable foreigners as suckers.

A generation ago some missionaries came up with a term for local peoples who come to Christ in order to get some sort of financial or physical benefit: Rice Christians. "If you give me a bowl of rice, I will become a Christian." This dynamic is not dead in the least. It is very prevalent in poor countries where missionaries work. The task for the missionary, then, is to figure out ways to avoid this dynamic.

The problem is that too many missionaries ignore this syndrome and throw their money around. They feel justified because they can credit God with all the activity and excitement they are generating. Then they turn around and report this activity and the numbers of all the people at their events in their newsletters. This then helps them raise more money because people back home are so excited to give to a mission work that "God is really using."

And some of the most popular mission agencies in the States are the very ones that are dumping money (in various forms) on the field and the people they are "reaching" are actually being converted to loving wealth more than God.

Tomorrow I will tell you a couple stories...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Off Topic: US Government Bailout

This is completely off topic for my blog, but I just can't get over something I recently heard about the US government bailout plan(s).

If you spent one million dollars ($1,000,000) every DAY since the birth of Christ, you still wouldn't have spent as much money as congress just did.

Do you believe that? There are 365 days in a year. For the benefit of the doubt, let's say Jesus was born in 4 BC like most think he was. This is the year 2009. that means that Jesus was born 2013 years ago. That is a total of 734,745 days. But then say we add a leap year day for every four years. That is an additional 503 days. So, that is a total of 735,257 days. That comes out to 735.26 billion dollars. ($735,257,000,000)

Congress' bailout package is a reported 785 billion dollars, according to what I read (fifty billion less than our two-millennium spending spree). But everywhere I check it simply says a non-specific 700 billion dollar number. So, I'd like to hear a specific number from another source just to see if this is indeed true.

Dependency Mission 02

"Just $30 a month and you can support a native missionary who already knows the language and the culture, and who will risk their lives to preach the gospel to thousands."

Sounds good, right? There are a number of mission agencies in the world who advertise like this. One in particular will give you a free book telling you why Westerners should not be missionaries because it takes more than $30,000 to move them there and that same money could support hundreds of native missionaries who don't have to go through language training or worry about culture shock.

Many times I've been asked the same question: "Why should we come visit you when we could just send the money from the plane ticket to hire locals to do the same work?" And in many cases, I do think sending some money would be a better thing to do. In other cases, I don't think very much money ever comes in from people who've almost decided to go.

But arguments for supporting native missionaries, sponsoring children and donating to missionary charity efforts tend to rely on making sure you know that we over here (on the mission field) are better off if you give us your money versus you spending that money on something else, whether that be a trip to the field or a swimming pool in your back yard. So the only thing you consider is whether you should give your money to "missions" or spend it on yourself. You can see where this is leading. You feel guilty spending money on yourself so you give it to missions.

What is usually left out of consideration (and many agencies don't want you to go there) is whether or not the missions program you are giving to is a good thing. Most just assume, "It's missions so it's all good." "They're helping the poor--what could be wrong with that?" "We have so much compared to them. What is just a little for us really goes a long way over there."

But just continually supporting native missionaries or sponsoring a child can create dependency. More on this later.

What about you? Do you have experience in giving out of guilt while assuming the recipient has a worthy program?

Tomorrow I will share with you about what happens when some missionaries come to town with big plans...

Dependency Mission 01

We in the church in America are pretty uneducated when it comes to missions. This is improving in some small incremental ways thanks the the explosion of mission-trip going during our vacations. But sometimes mission trips tend to reinforce our misunderstandings about missions rather than educate us. That is because our week-long trips are so short that it is impossible for us to learn anything beyond what someone who lives there permanently tells us. Still, we come back home as experts and spout off all of our knowledge. If anyone questions us we say, "I've been there!" Since most others haven't been there, the argument is finished.

Most of us see missions as exotic charity. We are the haves. They are the have-nots. So, we give what we have to them. Then we take a picture of a white person hugging a dark-skinned kid and publish it in our churches and newsletters. Those who see the picture are touched and impressed. In fact, there is not much more impressive (to us who are Christians) than "giving up" your life, moving to a "third-world" country and giving things to dark-skinned poor people like health care, food, clothing, dental care, soap, toothbrushes, education, English lessons and... oh yes, church. In fact, we give all of those things in the name of Jesus and the church.

But have you ever considered (and I'm speaking as a Christ-follower, a missionary and someone who wants to see the kingdom of God expand--NOT as someone who is anti-Christian or anti-missionary) that these things might be doing more harm than good?

Tell me what you think.

Tomorrow I'll share about how mission agency advertising pulls us into certain ruts...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Go Inter

This is perhaps the most important dynamic that is affecting us here at The Location. It is not only affecting us or mission work in general, but it is affecting the entire society. It is what The People call "Go Inter." (Yes, they actually use this pseudo English term pronouncing it in a very accented way.)

Go Inter originates from the words "going international." Its meaning is leaving home and going away to see and experience the world. Sounds great, right? Sounds like those who Go Inter are broadening their horizons and becoming more well-rounded people, right? Well, it is more akin to Superman's "Up, up and away!" Go Inter means that people climb the ladder of success and then abandon their homes, families and all the issues here at The Location. But it is what virtually all the youth and students want to do.

I read an article about The Location recently that said that 70% of all The People who complete a bachelor's degree or above, leave The Location and go to work in another country. The Location is a poor country without a lot of opportunity for the educated. The problem is that those who are left behind are often ill-equipped to address the problems of the society--at least in comparison to those who have left to seek their personal fortunes.

It is probably difficult for someone from the West to understand the problematic nature of the Go Inter dynamic. It is a catch-22. Everyone is in favor of people bettering their lives. But in this case, the betterment of a few leaves the betterment of many behind.

This same Go Inter dynamic is affecting the local church, too. And many times missionaries only contribute to the effect. Young people are taught to speak English and then sent to study in the West. What happens to the vast majority of these people? Most of them never come back. Even those who are sent to study the Bible. The idea is that We'll send them to study the Bible in America and they can come back and lead their people. The only problem is that they rarely come back. And the few who do? Whoa! They are usually very big-headed, arrogant and throw their weight around. I've studied in America! And they usually only live a rich lifestyle in the capital city, wear nice clothes and stand in front of people at church trying to gather all the respect they can.

In general, those who have the intelligence and ability to leave, do. Those who don't have the intelligence and ability, stay. Those who stay become the ones who run things. There is a huge talent drain in both the church and society in general.

Go Inter is not just limited to people leaving The Location and going to other countries. The dynamic is present at all levels. People in the village want to move to town. People in town want to move to the city. People in city want to move to the capital. People in the capital want to travel to the neighboring country, and then, if possible, move to the West where life is full of wealth, opportunity and English.

We have found that even sending people to the city to study "ruins" them. It ruins them in the sense that they lose all desire to come back and use their knowledge to help the rest of their people in their home village, even if this is what they promised to do when they left. Sending people to the neighboring country is worse. Therefore, we have decided to take those we're training and bring them to the countryside. It is isn't where anyone wants to go. Those who refuse to live in the country (and we have plenty of people who refuse our discipleship program simply because it is not in town) opt out. Those who stay are the ones who aren't so tempted by Go Inter possibilities and who will end up more likely to stay to make a difference at The Location.

For this reason I am not a big fan of teaching English on the mission field. Now, I am not opposed to it. But more often than not it only helps people to Go Inter. Actually, I'm not even opposed to any individual Going Inter, per se. But as a foreign missionary, my goal is to see The Location reached with the gospel of Christ. I fully accept that nationals will be the ones who best accomplish this mission rather than just myself. So I seek to train and send nationals to reach their fellow countrymen (and women). Who will do this? It is frustrating when you have a promising disciple who you believe will end up being an apostle to The People, and then they get sucked in by "the good life" or by leaving to work in another country--all because of the abilities you helped impart to them so that they would do effective ministry.

I realize Go Inter is not going away. It is a fact of life here at The Location. Our challenge is to see what we can do, in spite of this, to build God's Kingdom.