Archive for January, 2014

Village Visit and Being Vulnerable

We have had a chance to touch base with a few of you about our visit out to the village but I’m going to take a minute to fill the rest of you in. The walk up was long and pretty nuts actually. I ended up riding a horse back down the trail. It was pretty primitive living and we were able to listen and learn quite a bit. The highlight of the trip was throwing two Christmas parties. Zoom out of your Christian worldview if you can. No churches. No pastors, missionaries, etc. (until now), and no believers. The villagers had never heard the story. So we threw one pretty big Christmas party in our village where we did a little Christmas skit and hung out with 75 or so people in the courtyard.

The next day we did the same party in a neighboring village at a priests’ house. I can’t explain how it happened and exactly what happened but it was incredibly amazing. Here we were. . . a few foreigners trying to sing a few culturally appropriate Christmas songs with our thick accents. It was ok, but definitely not great. Ok, it wasn’t a few of the men at these party brought instruments from the temple and as we sang these songs they started playing. One by one people started dancing. The dance party went on for well over 2 hours, interjected by a skit about the coming of Christ to this world. There were seekers in the mix who were playing the instruments as people danced. Maybe 150 people were there. As onlookers would try to give praise to one of their idols, these seekers would start shouting aloud: “This is the festival of Jesus. Praise Him Yeah! (Or at least it was close to that). In 12 Ears of mission work, I’d never seen such a pure, culturally relevant, and beautiful party for Jesus.

One of our teammates commented afterwards about our friends laying out incense and burning it on the ground as the Christmas party started. We were all skeptical in that moment as that sort of thing is pregnant with idol-worshipping roots. However the Lord dropped Malachi 1:11 in my teammate’s heart. “‘”My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me because my name will be great among the nations’ says the Lord.” There has been a start of something very powerful and real as in days following a leading priest basically had a “what do I need to do to be saved” sort of moment where he is wrestling hard with the reality of the Kingdom.

Beautiful, but what a mess

It would be nice if life sort of existed in an amazing Christmas story sort of vacuum. The reality is that a demon-possessed lady showed up at the end of the party and made a scene about which the hosts didn’t know what to do. Days and weeks have followed with a lot of difficulty in seeing classism and racism escalate to the point that our team has had to find a new house in the village. The owner of the house we were renting would not allow us to invite lower-class people inside. It has gone on for several months and there is such division among classes in the same village. My role is to be a community transformation/development person and attempt to bring all these things together under the reign of Christ. There is such intense backbiting, negativity, and social ostracizing that it almost seems impossible to know where to start upon our move.

Being Vulnerable with you. . and with Narnians

We arrived back in the big city a few weeks ago and we are starting to realize how few relationships we have. We made a very, very intentional choice not to get swept into the missionary, foreigner community upon our arrival. There are scores of missionaries around the world who spend so much time hanging with co-workers and people from their own country upon arrival that they never bond with the very people they are called to serve. So we ran hard away from that, got a house helper who only interacts in the local language when she is here, and we’re studying our brains out. We are part of a small house church fellowship but that is quite far from our flat. Our goal in running from the missionary community was to bond with the local community and learn the language very well. People in the city however, are busy and automatically assume that Americans have their own friends or only want to speak English. Locals are a bit shy because they know their English wouldn’t be good enough to communicate with us so at times it can be very lonely. The positive side is that we are quickly learning the language and we don’t regret the choice for a minute.

Janessa and I have talked a lot in recent days about the privileges that exist at our fingertips. When we were working with newly arrived refugees in the US, there was never a way for a new family to arrive, get settled, and focus on learning language for a year. The goal for recently arrived immigrants in the US is to hurry up, get a job, and support their family. Their kids may have some level of hope as they are given a shot at a good education. At the time we moved to Narnia, my Narnia was probably better than most of our friends when they moved to the US. So we have this crazy, extravagant luxury in being able to sit around and talk to people. That is crazy guys. Nuts actually. We count our blessings all the time. We have a gift at our fingertips.

Now though, because of the slow entrance into relationships here, we are really going to need to pry ourselves into the lives of our neighbors. We are no longer the host in the relationship like we were in the States. Just as hard as we worked in welcoming our neighbors in Minnesota, we now have to work equally hard to get into the lives of people in the capital. We don’t plan to stay here a super-long time but we have to be able to bond with our neighbors on their terms and keep growing in friendship and conversational ability. For our own sanity and emotional stability y, we need each other. I believe it was Mother Theresa who said, “The major problem is that we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I am so, so thankful that we’ve been on the other side of welcome. I told a friend of mine in the States to day who happens to be from Narnia how we as rich, powerful Americans in a new city need the very same things that our friends needed in Minnesota when they arrived. We have financial security and a job, but other than that we’re lost. We still need help getting around using the same public transport as Narnianese. We still struggle with language though it is improving daily. We need help on where or how to buy certain things. And most importantly, just like our friends who were uprooted and thrown to the US, we need friends. We need people with who to laugh, cry, dance, sing, and everything in between.

I was pretty down tonight thinking about the rich, deep relationships I left in Minnesota. I can’t remember a time in my life that was so full of joy, depth, and meaning as it was over the last several years there. Now we start over again. So yeah, I was frustrated. I went to one of the few meaningful Narnian friends I have and was very vulnerable with him. I told him how I was doing. I told him some of the frustrations. A few moments later, our neighbor behind us whom we’ve never talked with introduced herself and talked to us for 20 minutes or so. We invited ourselves over. So here we go. .. Hospitality in reverse. We’re gonna make it.

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Are We Giving the Unreached Our Best Missionaries?

When we made our village visit a couple weeks ago, I got in a great conversation with my friend and teammate about the role of missionaries in work among unreached people groups. Very often anyone with an advanced seminary degree sets themselves up to teach at a Bible College or leadership training institute on the mission field. It was commented to my teammate once or twice that those with academic credentials are throwing away their education by living among rural farmers. It seems the opinion of many that education, thoughtful missiology, and the like will land you in academy at best and serve administratively in a mission agency or s a church mission pastor at worst.

But, what if the very reason we gain education is to serve the least reached? What if studying Biblical languages, missiology and anthropology was for the distinct purpose to take the Gospel where it has never been? On our team we have a woman with a BA and MA in Missiology and Nursing, another guy with a MA in missiology, someone with a BA in biology, a girl with a BA in Biblical studies and Education, and another guy with two master’s degrees in theology and Biblical languages. We find it a privilege to learn language, relate them in the most contextual ways, and do everything we can to bring people together in community transformation. What the world (and often times Christian leaders themselves) may consider foolish may just be the very tools God uses to bring His salvation to the ends of the earth.

Higher education isn’t at all the point. Serving and using the tools and privileges God has given is what I’m after in my thoughts here. May we be able to see beyond the elitist mentality and send qualified servants to the most neglected places in Narnia. Not for the nations, nor for the qualified missionary running away from the American dream. .. but solely for the hollowing of His name.

Michael Oh, director of the Lausanne Council, echoes our lament. Being humble servants and nobodies for Jesus.