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.