Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Measuring Meaning

Rich Strahm, who invited me to teach a class on “Response To World Religions,” asked me how I felt about teaching so few students? A former missionary to the Philippines, he and his wife have been working in Ukraine for the past 10 years. His vision is to mobilize Ukrainians for cross-cultural work and the missions program at the Kiev Theological Seminary is relative new. It’s a work in progress, but he is involved in a noble calling.

Before I made the commitment to teach I was aware it was not a large class. Unfortunately it was smaller than expected as some of the students in the program didn’t show up. How did I feel about teaching to a small class?

First of all, the size of a class or meeting has never been a criterion for me. I realize that many pastors in the states thrive on big numbers; it gives them meaning. I remember an Indian pastor who told me that if I moved to Chennai I could have big seminars. I told him I am more interested in finding the place of need, which to me, was in Delhi where the church was much smaller and I was not interested in a hall full of those who have ample opportunities to attend seminars. My colleagues in Kenya criticized me when I decided to work in the bush among two tribal groups, Turkana and Pokot. They thought the size of those tribes, about 250,000 each, spread over a vast desert was not strategic; they preferred working in the cities where the numbers were greater. However, I countered, no one was working among the semi-nomads whereas there were plenty of mission activity in their region. Numbers is not always a gauge in who and where one should work.

Second, the quality of those attending is more important to me than how many bodies there are. People preparing for cross-cultural work will always be a smaller group, but they are usually the most dedicated. I am not suggesting that those who take the theology courses are less godly or committed, but those who seek to serve Christ in another land among a different people than their own, usually, not always, have a depth about them that is unique and profound.

Third, though I never know who God will use in His work, I believe my teaching is a part of moving people toward His purpose. In the short time I have been working in Ukraine, one brother is now serving in Syria and another is working among the Gypsies in his country. It’s how God surprises that is more important to me than the guarantee of an audience.

Do I wish I were teaching before 50 rather than 5? Certainly. But consider those who were in my class: One lady and her husband are working in the Far East part of Russia, near Japan and North Korea. Another girl is from Kazakhstan, whose family came out of Islam. One guy is studying Mandarin and has been working with Chinese students in Kiev. He plans on moving to China after his studies. Another young lady has a desire to serve in India.

The measure of meaning cannot be only the expense of a plane ticket or the size of the class. For me it’s the heart of those I am privileged to teach, not how many listen to my words.