(This is a republish of several blogs that I wrote exactly a year ago.)
It sounds like the contradictory oxymoron, but it is actually a very true thing that we sometimes face. I’m not about to go claiming I believe in global warming, climate change, etc…but rather would like to reflect on World Missions with stories from our personal lives, and give you a glimpse of where we are ministering.
For the last few days, it has been a little hard at home…not only are we still sick, but we have been off and on without water for the last few days as well. At first, it went out without warning, and we went all day and evening without water. Then, it started going out regularly in the morning, and coming on in the evening.
Actually, what happened is that we had a big rainfall, which knocked out either some water tubing, or could have compromised the integrity of the water tanks here in Shell. Yes, this small town on the edge of the jungle is finally stepping up in the world, and trying to filter and to some point clean the water they are sending to the houses!! That means we (hopefully) will no longer have to worry about tea colored water coming out of the faucet, or earthworms falling out of the shower head after a heavy rain!!
So, we actually have no water because too much rain came down one evening!! Here in the jungle, on the edge of the rainforest, rain is a big deal. Here in Shell, which is on the edge of the jungle and mountain, it rains almost 175 inches of rain a year, 40 inches more than the city of Puyo, just 15 minutes down the road. It has something to do with the town being on a plateau above the Pastaza river. In Tena, two hours away, which is in a large bowl like valley on the other side of the jungle, before you go up the mountains on that side, the rain drops are literally twice as big as what falls in most areas of the world. I know, everyone I say that to doesn’t believe me, until they actually see it! You can hear the rain coming, like an army marching towards you, and when it finally hits you, it drenches you to the bone in an instant.
Obviously, there are other types of rain as well. Sometimes, we get a light rain that falls all day. The heavy rainfalls usually only last a couple of hours, and then the sun comes out again. We like to say we have two seasons here in the jungle; the rainy season, and the rainier season!! The interesting part is, you can travel just 40 miles in any direction, and the weather changes drastically. Generally, the farther into the jungle you go, the more extreme the weather gets.
I have actually been in villages in the rain forest that are hurting for water. In the jungle, villages weren’t built close to a water or food source, they are actually built depending on the terrain. Most villages were built near flat stretches of land, if available, to use for building, planting, a soccer field, and if they were very lucky, a short airstrip for the bush planes to land on, and bring in and take out supplies. Most of the rivers big enough for travel can at times be very fast and swift, rising suddenly, and so you usually have to walk a ways, or climb a steep bank, in order to get to the village you are traveling to.
This means that the villages that are not fortunate enough to be close to a small, clean river, or to have a small well and pump, have to depend on the rain. I’ve been in many villages that have 50 gallon plastic or metal containers to catch the rain water falling off of their roofs, in order to use it for their daily needs. And if it doesn’t rain, you don’t have water.
A little over a year ago, we were in the village of Chapintza as a family, to do a two day training for new Sunday school teachers. Although there is a rocky road that goes by there, and about three busses a day, they do not have any wells or clean rivers nearby. So while we were there for two days, we didn’t have a lot of water for cleaning or washing, because it hadn’t rained for a number of days…the first day we were there, it rained really hard for about twenty minutes, and then the sun came out again. Everyone was happy to have a little rain water for washing!! Daniel and Esteban had never been in a situation like that before, and after it rained, they started throwing dirt into the bucket that had collected the rain water off of the church roof, to play with mud! It was funny, but sad at the same time, because that was on of the the only buckets that had been set out to gather the rainwater, and now it was unusable! I had to explain to them that life was very different there, and that we couldn’t just play in the water whenever we wanted.
Life and culture is a very big part of being a missionary…around us are so many different cultures, and different ways of doing things, and there is a daily struggle to understand the culture or cultures of the people you are ministering to, and these different ways of life, which vary by location, climate, etc, and can even vary by village. Not knowing or understanding the way of life and culture of the people that one is ministering to can be dangerous, with results far more devastating than not having any drinking water.
One of the hardest thing that a new missionary faces is understanding the culture and ways of the people he is ministering. Even if they speak the same language, each country, and tribe, and even community has different cultures and values than others. Sometimes they can be subtle, like the way you greet someone, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. Some of the most subtle and unnoticed customs can be some of the most important ones.
For some, it can be very hard to simulate a culture that is very different from their own. Hudson Taylor, a famous missionary to China, spent years working against a culture, until he finally realized how to work with the culture. For others, the pitfall is allowing the native culture to change the basic fundamentals of gospel, saying that culture is more relevant than those teachings, such as the way we dress, our actions and attitudes towards others, etc.
However, the most dangerous part of culture on the mission field, is actually not a culture unlearned, but rather a lack of discernment as to what actually is culture. And too often, it is not the culture of the ones we minister to, but our own culture, that trips us up and causes us to stumble and fall.
What do I mean by that? Too often, as Americans, or any ‘first world country’ missionaries, we tend to think that we have all of the answers, that we do everything right. And too often, that tends to come across in our preaching and teaching.
Time after time, I have heard someone preach that a certain aspect of the culture that they are ministering in is wrong, and not because it goes against the bible, but rather because it goes against their own culture, or what they are accustomed to. There is no quicker way to turn off people to our gospel, than to say that what they are doing is wrong, because I say so.
It is important to teach the biblical truths and values, even when they go against the culture we are living in, but in a proper way; with love, backed by scripture, and in the proper time and setting.
The other pitfall, is something I have seen over and over personally, with the local pastors and leaders we work with, and it really upsets me. When we teach our own culture as if it where the gospel, we begin to shape and form the national church after the churches that we have back home. So many local pastors here do things because thats the way the missionary did them, or thats what the missionary told them to do, and rather than building their church and ministry on biblical teaching, they are forming it after the american church and american culture. In the book of Acts, each gathering of believers faced their own trails and struggles, but they also reached those who were within their own culture. Paul, when preaching once, saw that the people who had hundreds of altars to hundreds of gods, saw that they had another altar to the unknown god. Rather than preach at them that they were wrong for worshiping so many gods, he told then that he had come to preach to them of the Unknown God, the one and true Creator of heaven and earth. Because he embraced their culture and taught them scriptural principles, many were converted that day!
I love using the story of a missionary somewhere in the South Pacific Islands. As he was teaching the tribe that he was ministering to about building their life on the Rock, Jesus Christ, they told him that he was totally wrong, because everyone knows that if you put the poles for your house on top of a rock, the wind will blow them away! You have to stick them in the sand, where the point will go in deep, and it will be secure in the strongest storm. The missionary then and there changed the analogy, and many of the tribe stuck the poles of their life deep in the sand, Jesus Christ! Another story tells of a missionary who for years tried to teach about repentance, and the fact of how our heart needs to hurt when we sin; but the tribe never understood him. One day, when a young man, a friend to all, died, one of the villagers approached the missionary and told him that his throat hurt. The missionary started to check him over, but the native told him no, my throat hurts because the young man died. The missionary suddenly understood that he had found the analogy he had been missing! The tribe, rather than expressing pain as a heart ache, expressed it as a throat ache!!
I understand that we are not to add or subtract to Gods word, but culture in context is a very important part of biblical study and preparation, and should also be a very important part in the delivery of the gospel.
One of the most important thing for a missionary, and where not enough focus is being placed, is in realizing what is biblical doctrine, and what is my culture. When we don’t make that separation, we are endangering the national church and believers wherever we are. Culture in context, and an appreciation for the culture where we minister to, definitely needs to be a part of our lives on the mission field.
Why is it called the mission field?! In John 4:35, Jesus didn’t call it the missions field, he said that they were fields. “Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.”And, although he could have been talking about the different locations all around the world, I think he was referring to the different areas of ministry that exist on the missions field. Too often we look at missions as going to a lost tribe that have never heard of Jesus, and reaching them with the gospel. Thats the way I grew up, thinking about missions. Some of my favorite where Hudson Taylor, a missionary to China; Adonairam Judson, a missionary to Burma; and David Livingstone, missionary to Africa. These people, with dozens of others, inspired my youth about missionaries…men and women who left all for the gospel, went to unheard of places, faced mountains of trails, hardships, sickness and death, all to reach a tribe, people or nation with the gospel.
For me, growing up, that was the mission field. That was the work to be done. That was what I found myself thinking I would be doing, at the age of 12, when God called me to missions, and even to some point when at the age of 19 a came to Ecuador with my family. That was what missions was, that was the highest calling, that was what it meant to be a missionary.
However, After 10 years on the missions field, I have come to understand that it is much more than that, that there are many different areas and types of ministries that God calls people to, and that are necessary for the balanced growth of the christian church.
It is true that there are pioneer missionaries, ones who will go to a place that has not been reached by the gospel, and plant the seed of God’s word in their hearts. But there is so much more to missions then that. There are those that spend their time and skill in language translations, translating the bible into languages that never have had the written word of God. There are those that know how to fly planes, and work with different missionaries or agencies flying missionaries to remote places, or bringing supplies and medicine to where they are needed most. Many who have experience in the medical field, work at clinics, or on medical missions teams, reaching the lost with the gospel as the attend to physical needs as well.
There are also many others, who are a part of the mission field, each in their own field or area, serving as they best know how to, either in support roles, teaching, or even in social works, like orphanages, water supply, solar electricity, among many others.
Can we call those areas a mission field? James seemed to think so: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction.” It can be a big part of missions, of reaching the lost, of fulfilling the commission of the church, which is to reach and care for the trinite part of every culture, people and race; their body, soul and spirit; their spiritual needs, their health needs, and their physical needs. Then the christian church will be moving forward, in victory, changing the mindset and lifestyle of all who come in contact with her and her people, her missionaries!
All of us are missionaries. All of us have a part to fulfill. Even if it’s not going to another country, there are many places and people groups around each of us that need the gospel. I will go more into this towards the last day, but we all have a place to fill. There is another area, another field of missions, and that is the supporters. Missionaries are like a man, going down into a well to rescue someone…as he descends down the rope to reach the needy person, up top on the ground, many people are needed to hold the rope so the missionary can go down and back up. The christian church, regardless of who or where, are that support group, that lifeline to the surface, those who partner with missions through giving, through prayer, through encouragement.
So, what is each of our part in this?? What is the most important part?? Are we, as the christian church in this day and age, filling each of these areas, these fields of missions?? or are we missing something?? What is relevant and necessary for this day and age in which we are living, with so many needs around us?? Are the needs the same as they were 100 years ago? or have they changed? Do times change, or do we change with the times??
I don’t know about you, but I have heard something similar to this thought many times before. Haw many times, talking with our grandparents, or someone else reminiscing about how things were in the ‘good ol days’, have you heard them say with a sigh, “well, times change. Things are different now.” On the spiritual side of things, the church side, there is always a challenge in wether things should change or not, to be more relevant to this generation. Always the question if change is ok, and everyone has their own point of view. I don’t want to focus on this point, but rather paraphrase that saying with another one, that I believe is the absolute truth.
“Times don’t change the message, but it does change the need.” The word of God is a constant in this ever-changing world. What God says, thats the absolute truth. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Heaven and earth may pass away, but his word will never pass away!! No matter in what time we live, what culture we live, the word of God; it’s message of sin, salvation and redemption, will never change. That is the constant on which his body, the church, is established. However, with that said, the need for each culture, for each generation, can and does change.
Let me explain. And please bear with me, as we are getting into the heart of what I have been wanting to share. As I mentioned before, the main focus in missions for hundreds of years, was that of going out and reaching the lost, preaching and reaching those that had never heard, before the darkness of sin could drown them in death with no eternal hope. And many, even to this day, feel that that is what missions is all about. I did, growing up, when God called me to be a missionary, and even when I first came to the mission field. However, I think that in this day and age, the need has changed.
There are very few people who are now considered unreached. Yes, there are some tribes that still have never heard; we have two here, deep in the jungle on the border of Ecuador and Peru. And there are still some others, all around the globe, that have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But by and far, the larger part of the planet has been reached, what with missionaries going out for hundreds of years, with the modern inventions of radio, tv, and internet, the gospel has been sent over these invisible waves to listeners and viewers all over the planet!
Yet, the need seems to be as great as ever. Economical, social and moral crisis’s plague the earth, and even the church of God, the body of Christ. Part of that is because we are living in the end times, when the dark power and hold of satan on this earth is at such a point, that the word says that unless the days were shortened, even the elect, the saved, would be drawn away into this bondage. Yet, Christ rose from the grave victorious, conquering death, satan, and all that would bind humankind. So why are we still faced with so many problems? Why are these problems so rampant, even among the christian church? Why, if we are sealed and indwelled by the very spirit of the Lord who raised Christ up from the dead, do we still fall in sin, especially among the christian leaders? Why do we hear so much of pastors and leaders falling into the sin of money, of pride, of false teaching, and of sexual sins??
Oh, there are plenty of places to lay blame. We could use the old affinity “the devil made me do it!!”. We have three sources around us to blame; the great deceiver, the world, and our own flesh. “I’m just human.” “They’re pastors, they come under heavier attack than anyone.” I’m not looking to place blame on anyone. But I would like us to consider. Can part of the blame lie with the christian church? Could our view on missions be partial or incomplete? Could we be missing something? Is there something that we are not doing or fulfilling in our role as the christian church; being a city set on a hill, the salt of the earth, and our going into all the world to preach the gospel?? Is there another key part to missions, another field of missions that we are missing??
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19,20
So, what is missions? Are we missing a key part of it? Here, Jesus commands us to go, make disciples (preach), baptize and teach them, disciple them. I believe that way too often, we totally forget this third part of this great commission. Our focus on missions is still that of going out and reaching the lost, the ones that haven’t heard, as it was 100 years ago, and we totally pass over the fact that in these 100 years, hundreds of cultures and people groups have been reached with the gospel. True, there are still some unreached, but that number is significantly less than what it was 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago.
I have seen this happen, and the drastic effects its makes on the christian church, time after time here in Ecuador, and I have heard that it happens elsewhere as well. A missionary, or an evangelist, goes into a village, two or city, holds a crusade, and get 10, 50, 100 or more people to raise their hands in acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And everyone praises the Lord on the work that was done, and the souls that were saved. We are fulfilling the great commission!! But, that is only the first part of it. Many of the villages, these towns, these souls, are left at that. In some, the importance is seen to help start them out in obedience to the christian walk, and so they start a church, raise up someone that has God’s calling on their lives as the pastor, baptize people, and glory to God, we have a church!! Unfortunately, by and large, that is where it ends. And the third part, the teaching, the discipling, never takes place.
Why? because those are the sexy part of missions. I first heard this term used by a good friend and mentor of mine, and it has stuck with me ever sense. It’s sexy, attractive, to let everyone know that you had so many people accept the Lord!! Or that you started a church! These show results!! But have we really gotten to the point that all we care about are results? What about these souls, new believers, new pastors, who are left on their own? Oh, the missionary may go back and visit them once a year, and bring back reports on growth; but that is not discipleship. And that is the reason so many churches, so many pastors, so many believers are struggling today. There is no one to help them, guide them in their christian life, teach them how to hear the voice of the Spirit guiding and directing them, giving them discernment; no one to teach these pastors anything on biblical doctrine, on the importance of sounding out biblical teaching, teach them the importance of ethics, of a balanced christian life.
In todays missions, so many have risen their hands at a meeting, been told that that means they are saved, and on their way to heaven. There is nothing wrong with bringing people to a place of decision in their spiritual lives, the problem is the lack of teching and discipleship, even among the pastors. The christian church no longer knows what it means to live for Christ. In the first world countries, we do not know what it means to suffer for Christ, and in the developing countries, too often, the focus is on copying american culture, or even living off of the gospel, permitting sin, etc… and that is something they get from looking at our way of life, our christianity. I do believe that evangelists have their part in missions, a very specific and essential part; but pastor/teachers, pastoral care, discipleship and training, is what’s greatly lacking. Once the church leaders, the pastors, teach not only personal revelation, but also personal commitment and accountability, personal service in their local church and community, the church will grow and flourish; and with it, so will the culture, the nation.
The christian church, missionaries and evangelists have all gone after the “sexy” part of missions, getting people to raise hands, saved, baptized, building a church, etc; or working in social projects that have a great community effect; but we are working on the appetizer and the dessert, and not focusing on the main course, that which will sustain the church for the following generations. Why? Because discipleship is a week to week, month to month commitment. It is something that does not show instant fruit. It is filled with trails and hardships. In other words, it’s not sexy missions, is just plain old missions. And for this reason, there are few that do it or support it. And because of that, the christian church, and missions, are in the dire straights that they are today. There are few people that go out, take the time to get to know these pastors, pour time and resources into them, to strengthen the local church.
This our failing in missions, this is the field of missions that we have left untouched, this is the current need in missions; and it is a need that is so great, and so obvious, that we cannot afford to ignore it any longer. The other is necessary, yes; a balance is necessary in missions. But just as we cannot live only on appetizers and desserts (no matter how much that would appeal to us) the christian church, and missions, cannot and will not survive on altar calls and social works. We need discipleship, teaching and training; and people who are willing to go and do that, and others who will support those that do so, regardless of wether it’s as attractive or appealing as the rest, but rather focused on that it is what God has called us to do!!
I want to close with this thought, and I hope I haven’t lost anyone in the length of this blog, because of my ramblings, or through the directness of what I have shared. I have not written this to accuse or condemn, but rather as soul food, for us to ponder, and think upon. I hope that what I have shared can shake us, get us to reflect. That is what I want to do in closing, reflect; because honestly, what I have shared are personal stories, and personal views; and what I honestly think is greatly lacking in todays missions. But, we each have our own personal calling, our responsibility before God, to do what it is he has called us to do individually. We all have a part, but only God can tell us what that part is, in our personal calling to walk in the will of God. However, the universal calling of God for his church still stays the same.
Reading Matthew 28:19, the great commission, in Greek, gives us an interesting look into the mind of our Savior. Because, most translations have it down, “Go ye into all the world”. The original has the feeling of ‘As you go into all the world’. And that is a calling for everyone, not just those of us that leave our homes to follow Gods’ call to one field of missions or another. It is for his whole church.
So, what is your part? It’s to get involved in missions! Each one of us have gifts and talents, some, to go to another country, some, to reach those in their own country, or in their own community. There is so much to do, so much discipling, so many needs. Hey, God may be calling you to get involved in social work, or in evangelistic missions; and I’m not going to stand in the way of that! Everyone has a part, wether it’s actually going, or supporting in prayer and giving, both are equally important. Both are rescuing the ones in the pit, those that go down the rope, and those that support from the top, holding that life line firm and strong.
Just, always be encouraging and looking to encourage those that are doing the follow up, the training, the discipling. It can be a very unknown and forgotten work, because you don’t see results right away, as you can in the other fields of missions. But I feel that it is the most important field, and the one we most forget about! As a missionary on the field, I can personally testify to what a word of encouragement means. Even if it’s just a small note, saying that you are praying for them, this is one of the things that a missionary always needs!
May God help us to raise up true disciples, who follow God and his word, trust at his word, and obey it…and then teach others to do the same!! This is our calling, this is our Great Commission, this is the mission field, each field of missions doing their part to bring the kingdom of God to those that still need it! And, remember…if you don’t always see results right away, that’s ok. One of the two sayings that have stuck with me throughout my christian life and ministry, and old time preacher told me once, ‘God doesn’t call us to bring him results, he calls us to be obedient to him’. How true that is! Lets not worry about the results, but lets walk in obedience; and he will take care of the rest. Who knows how many people will come to you in heaven, and say ‘Thank you’ for something you don’t even remember doing, one act of obedience, one act of giving or praying; in Heaven, we will see the results of our labors!
Mark Blosser, Missionary in Ecuador.