Last Friday in our leaders huddle, our team leader Mark Burgess said something in passing that I’ve been giving thought to. He mentioned how a lot of people from outside, such as visitors or people who are friends of ours on Facebook think what we’re doing down here is awesome.
This encouraged me, and not just because it’s nice to hear people say things to confirm what I already think. Rather because I was getting discouraged at what I have sometimes struggled with thinking was a lot of investment into people’s lives and very little fruit in return.
Sometimes, even in foreign mission, the grass can be green on the other side of the fence. Through comparing yourself to what others are doing, you can think of yourself as a failure and that others are more successful because what they’re doing is sexier than what you’re doing.
However, sometimes the people who seem like a success are actually not, and the people who don’t seem like they’re productive, are doing far more valuable things for eternity. [Check out the Fire On Your Head Podcast Episode “Productive or Just Busy?“]
When Mission Is the “In” Thing To Do
I was fortunate enough to attend FIRE School of Ministry, which at the time I was a student had such a strong mission focus, that it seemed everybody who graduated wanted to be a missionary or a pastor. I remember during my second semester, we had a missions emphasis week, and there was an altar call inviting people to come forward who were called to missions, and I remember at least two-thirds of the student body went forward. I was not in that group. I remember feeling the odd one out and that I would get judged by others (nobody said anything, but I merely felt in the minority). This might seem odd now, considering nearly 11 years later I write this from the mission field itself, while many of those who I felt inferior to when they went up forward to get hands laid on them, have never gone on any long-term missions — at least not yet.
I don’t make that remark as a snide way of judging people who are passionate for Jesus in the midst of an altar call or missions conference but don’t ever go on the field, because, well, I never wanted to go but yet God called me and I felt I had no choice but to obey or life would suck for me.
When I was in school, the ‘in’ place to go on a short-term mission or an internship was with the team of graduates and third year students based in Holland in the early 2000s. The people who were ploughing and pioneering a new work there would come back to the USA (where I attended Bible school) and share testimonies of seeing entire auditoriums of teenagers repenting and giving their lives to Jesus en mass.
I remember the different thoughts and perceptions I had as a student sitting back and hearing all that was going on over there at the time, and I now I laugh
a bit¬†quite a lot to myself. I imagine my thoughts were a lot like the thoughts of other “new” missionaries I hear from and of whom I read newsletters before they head on the mission field for the first time: that we’re something special and the mission field needs us. Especially if you’ve been fed a steady diet of how we’re a “special last days generation” and “called for such a time as this.” The harvest is ripe and the labourers are few, so yes, the field does “need us”. But I am referring to the arrogant attitude that we’ve got something so special that everybody else doesn’t have and we ourselves are going to start a revival that changes the nation. The attitude that some who’ve already been on the field for years already, faithfully serving and building trust and relationship and understanding how the culture works, are failures until WE come and join them and give their ministry our badly needed contribution.
I coordinated with Gregg Montella, who was the leader and founder of the FIRE Holland base there at the time. We planned that when I finished Bible college I’d come over for a 3-6 month internship. Over 50 other interns had gone through in a period of 2 years, and in a sense I always felt like I jumped on board when it wasn’t in vogue anymore. Through lots of circumstances, the work changed and many of the people I interned with moved back to the USA and I felt the Lord lead me to move to Rotterdam, another Dutch city, and work closely with a national who also had attended FIRE.
I would love to say that it was awesome, but in some ways it was very hard to be almost alone after a really chic ministry ended and transitioned into something else. It was hard to be in the shadow of something that was awesome.
Pioneering Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
I also learned a lot of lessons during that season of my life and one of them is that pioneering something is difficult. Everybody loves to jump on board once something is established and is producing fruit, which you could say, is exactly what I did the first time I went to The Netherlands. I joined something as it was ending, and now I was a part of something else that was not in vogue yet or the in thing to be a part of which eventually grew and became very successful in a way I can take absolutely no credit for, since it largely happened after I left and moved to Peru.
I remember when I came home from my 5 month internship in the Netherlands in 2005 and had a sit down with my pastor. He listened to me for maybe an hour while I explained my experience and shared my disappointments and frustrations. I remember he didn’t say much other than asking me clarifying questions. When I finished he gently but bluntly asked me if the Dutch find graduates from my Bible school or missionaries/interns to be a “flash in the pan”. I was stunned and a bit offended, but as I processed it I realized that after sharing with him my experience, I had revealed my own lack of long-term vision and naive expectations I had before going. I’ve since learned about myself that millennials like me — or at least twenty-somethings my age — we may expect results too quick and not be as prepared for the long-suffering and patience that might be required to build a ministry and see revival take place in any community.
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