Monday, April 26, 2010

Non-Resident Missionary: The Glamor Is Not The Journey But The Purpose

This has been a busy year so far in teaching. Seven weeks in India, another week in Ukraine. I’m now on my way back to India for two weeks then later this year it will be Kenya, Romania, maybe Kyrgyzstan and then back to India latter part of the year. Each time I leave someone asks me if “I’m excited,” about my trip.

Travelling is not something to get excited about. I don’t fly business class so it’s 8 to 16 hours of cramped space and lousy food. I don’t excited about standing in line to go through immigration and customs. I don’t excited about jet lag, being dog tired at 9 p.m. only to be wide awake at 1 a.m. About the time I get adjusted to a different time zone I head home and have to go through it all over again. I get anxious about my accommodations as I teach for different organizations. Most times I am well taken care of, but sometimes I share my bedroom with mosquitoes, near a road with non-stop traffic noise. I don’t get excited about the food, though I enjoy most of what I am served.

What’s the trade off? Why, after years of doing this, do I continue? It’s for the things I do get excited about.

I get excited about teaching/discipling men and women on how to take the message of Christ in a cross-cultural context. I get energized when a pastor lights up because I’ve given him tools for him to effectively reach his community with the Gospel. I get an adrenalin rush when I help people see the importance of having a strategy for mission. I feel blessed when I can help a local church comprehend their role in the Great Commission and become focused on unreached people groups.

I am very much aware that age is catching up with me. The steps up the ramp are becoming more of a challenge; it takes a longer time for my body to recharge. What is intriguing to me is that the time when I (and most people) have the most to give because of life experiences it’s when physically I am waning. It's been well said that about the time you learn how to live, it's time to die. I’m hoping I will be able to continue my role as a non-resident missionary for at least another ten years, but some things are not in my hands.

Am I excited about this trip? No on the travel part, but very excited about the reason for the journey. If I ever lose the zeal for the purpose then I will know it’s time to hang it up.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Answer to Wrong Question

The other day a friend asked me to help a student studying missions. This student was writing a paper on how to work with animistic people. Since I worked with such a group for many years, the Pokot tribe of northwest Kenya, he sent me a series of questions to get my insight. One question was interesting.

“Can you describe the process of beginning to establish a relationship with someone for the sake of witnessing?”

I’m not sure why, but that question struck a defensive cord within me. “Why,” I wondered, “would anyone develop a relationship with someone just for the sake of witnessing about Christ?” Now that I’ve had time to think about it I guess I get the question, though I think it could have been crafted differently.

Most pastors and missionaries do seek avenues of developing networks of relationship, which lead to witness. Joining the Lions Club in the city, being a chaplain on the police force, starting a feeding program among the poor, teaching English, etc. These methods, and a host of other ways into the community, are not bad within themselves. Outsiders do need to build relationships, whether they are in the ministry or in business. The crucial question here is, does the means justify the end?

My answer to the student was that a person should establish a relationship with the Pokot, or any person, because it’s the natural thing to do, not merely an path for sharing the Gospel. As a follower of Christ I will share my faith, when given the opportunity, with anyone. But should I develop friendships for the express purpose of evangelism?

One my Face Book friends uses his “friendship” to advertise his business. Daily he posts something about his company in an attempt to drive traffic to his website. Occasionally I have used FB to do the same thing, but my friend uses it so much that I have put him in my “hide” box. I don’t want our relationship, even through the electronic social network, to be used for his sales agenda.

I think you get the point. Yes, there are legitimate ways in building a network of friends in a community. However, the best way to present Christ is to honestly make friends with people. It took me years to develop a network of relationships with the Pokot and I must admit, most of it was driven by how I could tell them about Jesus. Perhaps one reason the Pokot, and many other unreached people groups in the world, are still not reached is because they can “smell” our proselytizing agenda. So my advice on how to reach the unreached is simple – learn their language, learn their culture and worldview; develop genuine friendships within the community through everything from starting a school to being a cattle herder. If you do that well you will always have an opportunity to tell your friends the importance of Christ in your life.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Hard Truth of Reality

Question. Is this snowman a fatalist, pessimist or realist?

A fatalist, Christian or Muslim, is likely to say, “It’s all in the hand of God; His will be done.”

The pessimist probably knew he would be dead soon even as someone was rolling him into a snowball. In spite of the grin on his face, he was unhappy the day he was formed.

Reality is a hard taskmaster, which some people can never come to grips with. “Naw, you’re not going to die,” they say. “Something will turn up, maybe another cold front and another four feet of snow.” Those who refuse to accept reality waste a great deal of time and energy on what they would like for it to be, even though it will never happen. Self-deception turns a blind eye to reality. It’s going to happen, no matter how hard you resolve it to be different. The sooner you accept reality the sooner you can focus on what can be done, not a fantasy that defies logic. Enjoy the sunshine, for all of life is but a vapor. In your case, Mr. Snowman, it will take a bit longer to get there, but that’s reality, nevertheless.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Buckwheat Is Just O-Tay!

The first night for supper I was told we would be having buckwheat.

"Do you know what buckwheat is?" I was asked.

"Not really," I replied. My mind conjured up an image from my youth, but it didn't have anything to do with grains.

Ukrainian food is a bland compared to American food and almost tasteless to Indian standards. But I found that with plenty of salt, cabbage it's not bad. Not great, just O-Tay.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Act Like You Care

A friend of mine in New Delhi works with international corporations teaching cross-cultural studies. He asked me recently before one of his sessions, “What do Indians need to know about working with Americans?” My answer, “Tell them to ACT LIKE THEY CARE. Americans hate it when people have an ‘I could care less’ attitude. We are a ‘is right’ mentality. Customer service is a big deal for us, whether it is from people who live in another country or from those at our local store.”

My brother is a business consultant and works internationally. He has some great stories on this subject. He told me of a friend of his who walked into a bookstore in Russia and asked the owner if he could see the book on the top shelf. The owner asked, “Are you going to buy it?” The guy said, “I might, but I want to read the cover and table of contents first? The shop owner replied, “If you’re not going to buy it, I’m not going to climb up to get it down.”

Recently he was in Cyprus and he told the group he was working with that in America when he walks into a Wal-Mart store there is always a “greeter” at the door. He said if I need to know what aisle the toothpaste is on he can ask the greeter and that person will direct him to the area of the store he could purchase that item. He intentionally went to a store in their country and stood in one spot looking around, hoping someone would come up and ask if they could help. After fifteen minutes he gave up, not one person in the store acted like they cared whether he was being served or not. He told the company, “In your country you have people at the door to make sure the customer doesn’t take a bag inside or to make sure people don’t walk out without paying for a product, but you don’t have anyone who is there to help the customer.”

Acting like you care goes a long way in ministry and missions. Telling others about Christ is not just standing at the check-out counter ready to ring someone up for Jesus. Yet sometimes, I fear, that’s what our programs and methods are like. The church has its programs to draw people in and we visit “prospects,” but that doesn’t mean we care, it’s merely a means to sell our product, boost our attendance and increase our treasury. Acting like you really care means helping people with their problems even if they have no interest in hearing the Gospel. Acting like you care is visiting that drunk, old person in a nursing home, that single mom working long hours just to survive. These things may or may not help your ministerial bottom line, but it’s what Jesus calls, “Loving others as you love yourself."

Acting like you care is a big deal. Whether one is selling nuts and bolts, tomatoes or computers. One way to bring people back to your place of business is to ACT LIKE YOU CARE, even if you don’t. For the servant of Christ, acting like you care doesn’t cut it. People can usually see through false compassion. But the principle is the same; no one will ever be drawn to Christ if His disciples don’t show they genuinely care.