by Douglas Weeks
TO YOU WHO WAIT AND WONDER . . . What will it be like? How will I fit in? How can I make sure I am used to utmost effectiveness?
TO YOU WHO WAIT AND WONDER . . .
What will it be like? How will I fit in? How can I make sure I am used to utmost effectiveness?
FROM ONE WHO IS BEGINNING TO FIND OUT . . .
Here are a few thoughts— a stream of consciousness— with little attempt to edit and refine. They are my thoughts today while I am an inexperienced and highly impressionable new missionary. Tomorrow my opinions are likely to be different. But I'm opening myself to you, because I know you'll soon be in my shoes, and it might be helpful to you if someone who is where you will be tells it like it is.
My failure to refine what I'm saying comes as a warning to any perfectionists in the crowd. You'll find that life usually moves too fast for perfectionists on the mission field. Too much to be done with too little time. Have to learn to swallow pride. Realize that those who blaze the trail use crude instruments. Pray God that you make the straightest path. But no time to paint beautiful signs and erect picnic tables along the way. That's for the next generation. In many cases this means you can't have the luxury of using all those seminary notes with their impressive vocab. Have to be simple. Elementary.
Don't assume that the senior missionaries, merely because they have long tenure, know the facts about the nationals, the culture, the best ways to minister, where to buy goods, and where you should invest your life.
A missionary with twelve years' experience was helping me carry a couch down the street. He informed me that our national neighbors "don't respect us for doing this manual labor. They think we should leave such work for common laborers." This missionary evidently had not read the life of one of their most beloved leaders. The masses loved him because he was a "common man." Even as president he could be found working on a jeep along with hip mechanic.
When buying goods, it may be that a national is more likely than an American missionary to take you to the place where the price is right and quality best. Besides, going with a national gives you a chance to establish relationships with the people you have come to serve.
When trying to find out your role, get the majority of your advice from nationals. After all, they are the ones we have come to serve. Why should we ask someone else, especially a foreigner, how to minister to them?
You will discover when you gather with fellow missionaries that the conversation will get around to analyzing the nationals. This may or may not be helpful to you, depending on how deeply these Americans have penetrated the culture. Unfortunately, much of this kind of conversation is a pooling of ignorance— a sharing of stereotypes and generalizations which gives the new missionary misconceptions that can damage his relationships with the nationals. Beware of these conversations. Take them with a grain of salt. If you want to understand the nationals, live with them, eat with them, discuss, interview and pray with them.
As you adjust to a new culture, you may suffer from "complaintitis." This disease is not too serious if you treat it at the beginning stages. But if allowed to become chronic, this disease makes you a hazard to the health of the church. To the nationals who inevitably discover that you have this disease, its manifestations are extremely loathsome. It tells them you have not accepted their country and culture, and that you consider the American way to be superior. Aaaach!
Cures for complaintitis: Refuse to see people and customs as different. Instead; see them as excitingly new. There's a subtle distinction here. Different implies comparison, and comparison involves stacking up one culture against another. And because you are naturally inclined to be biased toward the American way, you will tend toward a negative view of the customs and culture of your adopted land.
But if you see the customs and people as new, this implies curiosity and a desire to learn. It implies wonder and appreciation. If we approach the new culture as a child, learning how to live all over again, life becomes an adventure. Forget America. Start over. "Except you become as a little child (in your adopted land) you will never truly enter that kingdom."
Strike forever from your mind and conversation this phrase: "In America we . . . " This implies you are still living in the past. Leave that behind. It is usually irrelevant to your adopted land. It implies superiority of the American way. It's better to hold your adopted land to the standard of the Bible. Surely every nation has fallen far short. But let us not be guilty of calling one nation's attention to another nation that has also fallen short. Let's call the people's attention to the Word. One of the greatest problems in missions is transplanted Americanism. A good rule to follow: Don't talk about America unless a national asks you to do so.
When you arrive on the field you will be greeted with much counsel. If you are at all discerning, you'll discover that 90 percent of this orientation plants fears in your mind: "Don't take a taxi alone. Keep your money in your socks. The pickpockets here will split your pants with a razor to get your wallet. Never put your arm out of the window of your car, because someone will rip your watch off. Be sure to lock your house and gate always. Be careful not to lend money to nationals, because they will take advantage of you. Never drink the water unless you know it was boiled for 20 minutes. Soak all the vegetables in Clorox water for 20 minutes . . . "
Recognize that your advisors sincerely want to protect you. Heed their counsel, but reject the fear content it implies. This fear makes you suspicious of every brown face you see and impedes your mobility in the society both physically (afraid to venture outside the safety of your walled compound) and emotionally (afraid to develop trusting relationships). If you can, be cautious without being suspicious; be trusting without being naive. It's better to begin by being open and trusting with people you do not know. Rather than striving to protect yourself, you should be a channel of God's love. You cannot do the latter if you are walled in by defensiveness.
Jesus tells us how this happens: "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." The meek are those who yield all their rights and property to God, trusting in God rather than themselves to protect their rights and possessions. The meek know that God is able to take care of all they give him. Thus, when a national wants to borrow your car, camera, or tape recorder, your defenses are down. These things belong to God. We can expect a loving Father to make sure that no individual child of his hoards his possessions. So after teaching the national how to properly use the item, you gladly release it. It's not yours. It's God's. So trust God to take care of it.
If God allows any of your rights to be violated or your property to be damaged, it is only because he can do more through allowing the violation than he could accomplish through preventing the violation. When Mr. X returned my tape recorder with anxiety written all over his face, and he haltingly explained that something went wrong, I had the priceless opportunity to show him I'm more concerned about our relationship than I am about property. By my attitude I built a bridge that is of far greater worth than the tape recorder.
In spite of all the fear-orientated instruction you receive, do not be defensive. After all, what do you have to protect that's worth more than establishing warm, trusting relationships? Is your very life worth more than that? Your job is to love. Let God do the protecting.
As you begin your missionary career, you're forced to make many decisions based on the counsel of the home office or missionaries who have been on the field. Most of this counsel is helpful. Without it you would be lost. Because others have gone before, you have the advantage of profiting from their experience. Exploit .that advantage, but don't let it exploit you. Wherever possible, find out for yourself what course to take.
For example, we assumed because of counsel we received that a certain Christian organization would be the most economic and reliable channel through which to prepare our goods for shipment overseas. But we discovered it was far more expensive than some commercial movers. We could have saved the mission some money had we checked into this. Also, the items were not carefully packed, therefore we had some damage.
If you have time to check out travel facts for yourself, you might be able to make arrangements more suitable to you than those the home office makes. Don't be afraid to suggest alternatives to the plan that the home office suggests. The powers that be make these arrangements basically for your convenience. Therefore, they won't be offended if you suggest a creative alternative.
It is helpful to come to the field with a fairly well-defined four-year plan for your ministry. When you first arrive you see a kaleidoscope of opportunity. If you have no plan, you might find yourself following many tangents. Each of these might be fruitful, but your life at best can be superficial.
Of course, your field director may have plans that differ from yours. If so, you at least have something against which to measure his plans. If you discover his plans are more promising than your four-year, plan, praise the Lord! Then you'll have the satisfaction of giving up the good for the best. If you believe his plans are not as good as yours, you already have a well-thought-out case to present to him. This makes it easier for him. He knows what you want. Together you can modify each other's plans and work out the best plan with both your career and the total program of the field in mind.
The next step, of course, is to submit the plan to the national church or representatives of the national group with whom you'll be ministering. Revise according to their counsel. Then go to it.
One caution: Some of what I have written may seem anti-fellow-missionary. Please don't generalize what I have said and assume that you can't trust missionaries or the home office. If you don't trust these people, you better get out now. It's not a matter of either trust senior missionaries, or find out for yourself. It's not either trust the missionary, or trust the national. Trust the senior missionary, and the home office, and your own digging for the facts, and the nationals.
Don't rely on only one of the four. Rely on all four, plus one— He who is over all and in all.
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