Tag Archives: missionary work

Called to be a Dandelion

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gardeniaLast year on the campus of our school there was a beautiful, ancient gardenia bush that bloomed and bloomed for the pleasure of all who would pass by it.  It was about the size of a VW bug… the old kind.  I loved that bush.  I know what it takes to keep a bush like that alive and blooming.  I’ve had three of them in my past gardening history.  They are spoiled, temperamental plants.  I currently feed mine coffee grounds every few weeks… it likes coffee.

But one day I came to school and was horrified to see that the old gardenia bush was under attack.  Every single leaf had a huge bite taken out of it.  During the night, leaf cutter ants had demolished the ancient bush.  The gardener pruned it hard, but it could not be saved.  I mourned the day that they cut the bush down completely.

One of my first purchases when we moved to Costa Rica was to buy a pair of books about the Birds and Plants of Costa Rica.  Yes, I’m kind of a nerd like that.  I like to know the names of things.  Back home in Minnesota I have a huge Encyclopedia of Gardening, 900 pages worth!  I spent many a winter day reading about the Ph of soils and the light requirements of various plants.  I just really like plants.

dandelionsIf I were to compare myself to a flower, I would say that I’m not a gardenia, a rose, or a jasmine.  I’m a dandelion.  I have read that dandelions are not native to America, though they seem quite happy in Minnesota lawns.  I read that one of the first governors of Minnesota had a wife who heard about dandelion salads being in vogue in Europe.  So she imported the stylish “flower” to cultivate in her kitchen garden.  Little did she realize that she would single handedly blanket the state with the yellow weeds which are the bane of every weekend gardener’s existence.

blowing a dandelionI am a dandelion.  I’m not saying I’m a weed to be hated.  I’m saying I’m common, ordinary, and imported.  Being a missionary, I am not native to my soil here in Costa Rica.  But my plan is to reproduce our ministry prolifically.  We are in University ministry.  We hope to blanket the country with students who will reach out to other students who will reach out to other students… on and on.  This is the goal of every missionary- spiritual reproduction.

I don’t want what I do to be so fragile and finicky that it is easily destroyed by an army of pests.  I don’t want what I plant to be beautiful but high maintenance.  I want the wind of the Holy Spirit to carry the hardy seeds of our ministry to distant soils.  I want University Campuses to become the natural environment for Christian small groups and Bible studies to spring up every where.  I want Christian university students to be so numerous that they are no longer rare.  I want us to be common.  I am called to be a dandelion.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameliatwu/3839938475/”>CameliaTWU</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/Flowers/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/vincealongi/2537227873/”>Vince Alongi</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com/Flowers/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/a6u571n/3131321415/”>aguscr</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>CC BY</a>

Mission Accomplished

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The scriptures say that when David had completed all that God planned for him, he died and joined his ancestors.  Sometimes we are surprised when death comes to someone young, or someone who appears to be doing everything right.  But the Bible makes it clear that there is a time for each of us to die.  It is not a random thing, nor is it preventable.  The Bible says we die when we complete the mission that God has made us to do, whatever that may be.

This should be an amazingly liberating idea for a Christian.  You can basically do that whole Matrix thing around bullets if it’s not your time to die!  This should essentially set you free of all kinds of fears that might have held you back before.  But sometimes there is actually a purpose to the WAY and TIME that we die.

Lately, a friend of mine has been posting updates about another missionary who is dying of cancer in a “closed country”.  Stewart and Bev* have worked for 20 something years in this hard place, and not one person has been saved.  They spent years traveling into the interior of this country, ministering among the lost, yet no one has responded to the message of Salvation.  They just plodded along faithfully, loving people and hoping that the message was coming through loud and clear.  Then Stewart was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

As they prayed together, the family felt that the Lord was telling them to “live out this death in the eyes of your neighbors.”  So they began to make preparations for Stewart to die in that country.  When they heard that Stewart was dying, the people in the interior where they had ministered all those years asked the family if they would move in with the tribe and allow Stewart to be buried where they live.  The family was deeply touched by this, but it would be impossible without government permission for a foreigner to be buried in the land.

That same day, a lawyer for the tribe came to the house to consult with the husband and wife.  “Let me take care of everything.  And is there anything else you need?”  He asked.  They needed to transfer the title of their vehicle into Bev’s name so that the government would not seize their property once Stewart died.  The lawyer agreed to handle that paperwork as well.

Within a few days, the family received permission to move to the interior, buy a burial plot, and for Bev to keep the car. All their concerns had been handled with minimal stress on their part.  Now they could focus on dying well, as God had commanded them.  Even as he grew weaker and weaker, Stewart continued to receive visitors.  They would sit at his bedside, sometimes talking, sometimes crying.  They marveled at Bev’s peace and strength in the face of her husband’s failing health.  They began to ask Bev about the source of her peace.  The door creaked open.

Women who had been cautious about the foreigners brought food and sat with them in their grief.  One woman confided to Bev that her husband had passed away that year, and she was so angry and scared.  She asked Bev how she could be so calm and strong.  Bev shared her source of strength and offered peace to the woman.  The door swung wider still.

The family contacted the grown children and asked them to come home to say good-bye.  The children left college to return to the mission field.  The village people surrounded them with love, like members of their own family.  The children are comforted as well as being a comfort to others.  Stewart is living out his death in front of the community.

Precious is the death of the Saints in the eyes of the Lord.  This is a homecoming with a purpose.  No one knows the kind of impact that Stewart’s death will have in this closed, barren mission field.  But there is a purpose, and there will be a harvest of souls.  A peaceful and strong Christian is powerful in death.

*Names have been changed because the country is a Muslim country, closed to missionaries.

The Savage My Kinsman

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This is an bit from a book that I just finished reading called The Savage, My Kinsman by Elizabeth Elliot.  As a missionary I really related to her honest sense of uselessness as she spent a year living with Indians in the Amazon Basin.  How, as missionaries, do we make sense of this seeming spinning of our wheels?  How can this be called “Christian” work when we are just learning the language and learning how to live in this new place?  We speak like babies, we can’t even function in daily life without help and directions from others, we are an ill fit with this culture- how can we give these people what they do not even know they need which is New Life in Christ?  Elizabeth Elliot wrote words that comforted me because I understood where they were coming from:

God keep us from sitting in the seat of the scornful, concentrating solely on the mistakes, the paltriness of our efforts, the width of the gap between what we hoped for and what we got.  How shall we call this “Christian” work?  What are we to make of it?

We must not proceed from our own notions of God’s action (it will appear He has not acted) but must look clearly and unflinchingly at what happens and seek to understand it through the revelation of God in Christ.  His life on earth had a most inauspicious beginning.  There was the scandal of the virgin birth, the humiliation of the stable, the announcement not to village officials but to uncouth shepherds.  A baby was born- a Savior and King- but hundreds of babies were murdered because of Him.  His public ministry, surely no tour of triumph, no thundering success story, led not to stardom but to crucifixion.  Multitudes followed Him, but most of them wanted what they could get out of Him and in the end all His disciples fled.

Yet out of this seeming weakness and failure, out of His very humbling to death, what exaltation and what glory.  For the will of God is not a quantitative thing, static and measurable.  The Sovereign God moves in mysterious relation to the freedom of man’s will.  We can demand no instant reversals.  Things must be worked out according to a divine design and timetable.  Sometimes the light rises excruciatingly slowly.  The kingdom of God is like leaven and seed, things which work silently, secretly, slowly, but there is in them an incalculable transforming power.  Even in the plain soil, even in the dull dough, lies the possibility of transformation for, as the psalmist wrote, “All things serve Thee.”

The missionary, with all his sin and worldliness, stands nevertheless with Christ for the salvation of the world… The effort to do this must not be seen in “either/or” terms- either it is flawless, and therefore a success, or it is flawed, and therefore a miserable failure.

Every time my hopes are dashed and I am asked to exchange my small view of “good” (when things work my way) for God’s view of it, expressed in Romans 8 …{He cooperates for good with those who love God and are called according to his purpose…}  That, in the last analysis is for us the only good- that shaping, no matter what it takes.

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From the book  The Savage, My Kinsman by Elizabeth Elliot where she talks about spending a year living with the Amazon tribe of Indians who speared to death her husband and 4 other missionary men.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/3555700749/”>@Doug88888</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

What the heck am I doing here?

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Every once in a while I go through a “What the heck am I doing here?” phase.  Other missionaries might relate to this feeling.  I look at the things that consume my time every day, and I feel like very little that I do has spiritual significance.  I sweep and mop floors, I fold laundry, I teach ordinary school subjects to fifth graders, I make dinner, I pack lunches, I pick up toys, I walk to the grocery store to buy bread… I do all the ordinary daily life tasks.  However, here it takes me twice as long to do most things with twice the effort that it would in America.  All that to say, daily life kicks my butt most of the time!

kitchen-sinkI start thinking about how easy it is to live in America, how I could do twice as much in half the time and still have time left over to minister to people.  I wonder why I’m here.  How can THIS be considered Kingdom work?  I imagined being a missionary to be more like living on a missions trip!  But it’s not.  Daily life becomes daily no matter where you live.  I DO love when teams come down on trips because I get a taste of what drew me to missions in the first place… but that’s not how I live every day.

It’s a part of my personality package to search for significance and meaning in my life.  I would be happy and fulfilled if every detail of my life had spiritual implications, but I just can’t reconcile washing the dishes for the Kingdom of God.  That doesn’t equate in my mind.  If I were the apostle Paul, I would want to spend all my time preaching and none of it making tents.  But the bills must be paid- so I teach school.  Dinner must be made- so I go grocery shopping and prepare meals.  Children must be cleaned- so I do laundry and bathe the kids and teach them to brush their teeth, etc.

I start to feel like a fake when I call myself a missionary and the next question is, “well how many people have you gotten saved?”  It’s as if my life is being weighed in a balance and I come up short.  I am worthy of my calling only if X number of souls have come into the Kingdom.  When that’s not how the Kingdom works at all.  God’s Kingdom is not mathematical.  If it were, then the worker who worked all day long would receive more wages than the ones who arrived on the job in the last hour or two of the day.  But in that parable, Jesus said all the workers get paid the same regardless of how long they worked.  That’s neither fair, nor logical, nor mathematical.  If that’s not proof enough of the inefficiency of the Kingdom, then just look at the life of the missionary for more evidence.

woman-washing-dishesIf God were interested in the efficiency of numbers and equations then He wouldn’t ask a foreigner to go to a strange country, learn a new language, and speak to people with child-like simplicity and painful inaccuracy of pronunciation and grammar.  That just doesn’t make sense.  But He does.  This is how He works- mysteriously and sovereignly.  But I still think he could do this thing quicker and cleaner if he called and equipped locals only.  Why throw the messiness of missions into the pot?

When I am deep into my “what the heck” phase, I see all the messiness of missions.  You can’t bring cultures into close proximity without both of them being changed- and not always for the better.  Early missionaries brought sicknesses and diseases that the natives didn’t have the immunity to fight off.  Imperialism was a blight on early missions efforts- and this deadly fungus is still infecting the image of missions to this day.  Modern technology literally destroys simpler and older ways of life, often creating new problems even as it solves others.  Nothing we do is clean cut and free of the tarnish of human motivations.  Everything we touch becomes tainted, and God asks us to put our hands all over every detail of this life.  “How could he WANT it this way?” I question.

I don’t have any answers to this question.  I muddle through my own feelings of uselessness and futility even as I long for purpose and meaning.  I long to be useful.  Yet the only thing within my power is my own obedience.  I wish missions were clean and tidy.  I wish obedience was simple and easy.  But it’s not. It’s daily.  It’s messy.  It’s complicated.  It is impossible to sound the depths of the human heart and it is impossible to write up a how-to manual for building the Kingdom of God.  It can’t be done.

Photo credits:

Kitchen sink, Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeangenie/178780382/”>jeangenie</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</>

washing dishes in Honduras Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/lonqueta/3532526536/”>Lon&Queta</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com/People/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

You want ME to teach THAT?!?

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In addition to teaching 5th grade, I also teach Bible class for 9th grade.  The theme for this class is the book of Acts.  (I tried to get out of teaching this class by telling our Baptist administration that I’m Pentecostal, but they were willing to overlook that fault.  They just wanted me for my Bible School training.  I asked them, “Do you REALLY want someone who’s Spirit filled teaching ACTS?!?  ‘Cause if it’s in the Bible, I’m teaching it.”  They were nervous, but desperate.)  We have taken a long pause in Chapter 14 to talk about an event that happened on Paul’s first missionary journey.  Because about half of the class is missionary kids, we are really taking time to pull apart these lessons for missionaries that we find in Acts.

In Chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra and they heal a crippled man.  The locals are stunned by this miracle.  They shout in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human bodies!”  They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul, because he was the chief speaker, was Hermes.  The temple of Zeus was located on the outskirts of the city.  The city also had a belief that once the gods had visited the city in human form and no one honored them with a sacrifice.  So the gods destroyed the city.  The people didn’t want to repeat their mistake, so they prepared to sacrifice oxen to the apostles at the city gates.

Unfortunately, Paul and Barnabas didn’t speak the local language.  They spoke Greek which was the language of commerce of the Roman Empire, the only language they had in common with the people.  So they were slow to catch on to what was happening, and they didn’t know the history of the gods’ previous, disastrous visit to the city.  So they were at a distinct disadvantage in this story.

When they realized what was happening, the apostles dramatically protested and interrupted the religious parade.  This made the locals irate.  They stoned Paul and threw him outside of the city, assuming he was dead.  He was one tough missionary though.  He got back up and went back into the city.  Paul and Barnabas later escaped with the help of their friends.  It was not a good day for these missionaries, but it was a lesson for us to learn.  It is important to know the local customs and to speak the local language, if possible.

Here we paused to discuss how modern day missionaries can find themselves in similar cultural blunders or dangers.  We talked about how a missionary must consider, before hand, what is actually a Christian, Biblical mandate and what is just part of our culture that we brought with us from our home country.  I gave my class 8 different categories that contain pitfalls for missionaries, things they must consider.

For the next few days I am going to blog about stories that I have heard from other missionaries or things that have happened to me related to these 8 categories:  clothing standards, holidays, governmental or political issues, Church and State relations, vices, virtues, living conditions and material wealth.  So join me for the next few days as I tell stories of how some missionaries have struggled to find harmony between their own cultural assumptions and the reality of the culture they hope to minister to.

Paul said that he tries to “become all things to all people so that he might win some”, but what does that look like, in a practical sense, for the modern day missionary?  I will show you some possibilities.  If you have stories of your own, I would love to hear them!  Leave a juicy comment below.

Guest Blogger: Missionary Tim Strange, on Discipleship among the Bri Bri Tribe in Talamanca, Costa Rica

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Missionary Tim StrangeWhat 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.