What is our obligation to new Christians? Is it enough to lead them to salvation like leading a horse to water or do we have a further obligation to disciple new believers and help them grow deep roots into their new faith? What is our responsibility and how much time are we willing to commit?
In the past few months I have found myself working among the Bri Bri Indians here in Costa Rica. A good friend and fellow missionary, Miguel, introduced me to a group of Costa Rican pastors and Bible school students who go to the Talamanca Indigenous Reserve near the Panamanian border every second weekend to minister and lead discipleship groups at 5 churches using curriculum from Global University. They have been making this trip every month for 6 years, ever since one pastor caught the vision of discipleship! I was invited to go along and see what had been happening. Miguel said the trip down is rough. It’s a different world down there. The Adventure Bug bit me hard!
The packing list that Miguel sent included the usual items like a sleeping bag, bug repellent, drinking water, etc… Somehow I ended up with two tents. I was excited for the six hour road rally! We left San Jose at 3:30 am. After a few hours, we left the highway for a gravel road which passed through creeks and villages built on stilts. We passed pigs roaming free and scraggly chickens in every yard. Eventually the trail brought us to the River. After crossing the river, we continued up the mountain. We talked about the Bri Bri as we traveled.
The more I learned about the Bri Bri and their history, the more upset I became. Not just at their struggle for social justice, but also at the injustice of the church. If you were to ask a Bri Bri on the street if they knew Jesus, they would tell you yes, for many have accepted Christ as their savior multiple times. Many evangelists have come to town and set up their tents and sound systems and sold tapes and CDs. But what happens after the evangelist leaves? The Bri Bri have been left at the altar and have become wary and jaded at the sight of gringos bearing gifts, even the free gift of salvation, paid by the Son.
We all know the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 which gives Christians the mandate to Go and make disciples. I love how The Message paraphrases it, “Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.'” Matthew 28:18-20
It seems we sometimes we get so caught up in winning the lost at all costs that we forget about discipleship. I remember a picture on a stamp at Christmas time, years ago. A teenager from Boys’ Town is carrying a smaller boy on his back. The caption reads, “He’s not heavy, He’s my brother.” Often times missions teams come and minister, leaving a stack of decisions cards with the pastor. They tell the pastor, “We won 500 people to the Lord this week and they are your responsibility.” Really? Does our responsibility end when we get back on the plane to go home? Is it OK to leave people at the altar? I’m not knocking evangelism, but I think many see it as the end game and not as a starting point or part of the journey of discipleship.
I don’t know what my future with the Bri Bri looks like, but I’m excited about the possibilities. Discipleship now excites me! Count me in! I have seen how one Costa Rican pastor who was impacted 6 years ago has been faithful to making disciples and now we are seeing true results. Yes, it starts at the altar, but it doesn’t end there. We much reach, equip and send out laborers to the last harvest, but evangelism is only a part of it. Discipleship is where the real work begins.
Getting there is half the fun! Click to see my youtube video of crossing the river to get to the Bri Bri Tribe.