Thursday, February 28

Is breaking the law necessarily a sin?

We live in a complicated world. The world is more often gray, rather than a simple choice of either black or white. To eat an Oreo cookie or spreading Kraft mayonnaise on my sandwich is supporting the tobacco industry (both Oreos and Kraft are owned by the tobacco industry.) Is eating an Oreo a sin? That's what I mean by we live in a gray world.

Certainly some things are black or white, such as anything which clearly go against the teachings of Scripture. To kill someone is not only breaking the law, it is sin. But what about when I drive 40 mph in a 20 mph posted zone? I am clearly breaking the law, but is it a sin?

Years ago, as a music student, I was at a banquet of our school. I happened to sit at a table with several professors from the music department. In the course of the meal, I casually asked if anyone knew where I might be able to BORROW a copy of a popular cantata soundtrack to use as accompaniment with our small Hispanic church choir. You would have thought I had committed the unpardonable sin by even considering such an illegal thing!  Everyone at the table became silent. Then one of my profs explained to me that doing so would be illegal and anybody doing so would be "breaking copyright laws" and could be held liable. End of the discussion. I continued to eat my apple pie but wondered to myself what harm there would be in our tiny Hispanic Church borrowing for a few weeks an expensive and unafordable soundtrack from one of the larger more wealthier churches in town who would have it gathering dust on some shelf? But since I didn't want to "sin" by "breaking the law" I did nothing more to pursue the matter. We ended up finding someone who could play the piano and used them instead.

May I ask you, the reader, a personal question? Have you ever made a song sheet for church, or made a copy of a song or CD and shared it with family or a friend? Have you ever reproduced copyrighted material in any form without the permission or license to do so? Have you ever projected on a wall a video, or printed out the words to a song and used them in a service without having written authorization to do so? Yes, I know what the laws say--to do so is a NO-NO, it is illegal--but is it a sin? And yes, I recognize that to do so subjects me to getting into trouble with the laws of the land. But again, am I sinning against God?

Maybe I have lived overseas for too many years, but the host culture where we live and serve does not regard copying and reproducing copyrighted materials as sinful. Everyone--and I mean everyone--does it all the time. There is little, to no regard, for all the strict laws that are so much a part of life in more developed parts of the world. Now I am NOT saying it is OK to do so. What I am asking is this a sin against God that needs to be repented of and confessed? Before you say yes, read on...

A wild guestimate would be that for every legitimate copy of Christian music (in all its forms) there are literally thousands of so called "illegitimate" copies floating around. Few of us even give it a second thought. There are no associated guilty feelings. Are all these tens of thousands of Christians guilty of sin? One could argue ignorance of sin is no excuse. Yet, if those participating in it are totally unaware of any wrong-doing, are they sinning? My American brothers for the most part would say, yes. They are stealing that which does not belong to them.  But is using something the same thing as stealing it? If my car is "stolen" yet it is still sitting in my driveway, was it really stolen?

I am fully aware that a post like this sounds very odd to most of us coming from a Western mindset. We have been told that these kinds of things are wrong. To do them is to sin. But who is it telling us these things are sin? Isn't it our money-making, consumerism culture? If things aren't sold then the "sin" is that money isn't made. If money isn't made, we can't make more stuff! It is our society that has declared these things to be so.

Isn't everything that God gives to his Body freely given? Matthew 10 quotes Jesus as saying, "Freely you have received, freely give..." If it is meant to bless and edify the Body of Christ, should one "own" and charge money to others so that another can be "blessed?" Do we actually think we own what God has freely given to us for the benefit of his Body? Where did the commercialization of Christianity come from anyway? I truly wonder if Jesus were walking the earth today, would He not be spending a lot of time cleaning out today's temples who have made an industry out of his Word.

Now, I know that to take the above argument to its extreme would mean any of us could simply walk into another's house and "freely take" whatever we like. But what I am talking about are matters that are directly related to the building up of the Body of Christ; things like teaching materials, music, messages, songs, books, articles, media presentations, etc. As things stand, there are laws protecting these things, but I continue to wonder if this is what God intended from the beginning when He freely gave us all the gifts he has given.

If I write a song, is it my song or God's gift to his Body through me? Is it really mine to do with what I like: make money, sell, distribute, etc. Granted there is nothing inherently wrong with earning money, but to think it is MINE and not God's gift is what I am trying to correct. So what if everyone likes my song and uses it! It was a gift from God, I want it to be a blessing to all.

In Acts 8 Peter severely rebukes Simon the Magician because he wanted to "buy" the blessing Peter had. He rebukes Simon, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!" What God gives is done so freely. To charge, or think money is involved in any way, seems to go against the original plan of blessing God has for His Church. I don't believe we are to make money out of the Gospel that has been freely purchased for us by the blood of Christ.

So to conclude: the law says these things are wrong. Fine. One who breaks the law must be ready to answer for his/her actions and pay accordingly. But, we are not always sinning when we break the law. Just my 2-cents on what is still to me a highly questionable matter.

Monday, February 25

How baptism, the Lord's Supper, weddings, & funerals are carried out in churches that meet in homes

If simple churches are usually led by non-professional "lay" leaders, who performs all of the ceremonies traditionally officiated by professional clergy? Who does the baptizing, serving of the Lord's Supper, funerals, weddings, and all the other duties traditionally done by ordained ministers? Who do you call when there is a death in the family? Can anyone baptize (women?) Who presides over the Lord's Supper? Can any believer marry a couple?

I have no problem answering these questions, but as part of my answer, where do we get the idea that only a certain class can carry out these functions? Can any of us point to a single instance in the NT where any of these functions is designated as exclusive terrain of a chosen few?  Is it a commandment or an ordinance that only trained, seminary educated, ordained ministers be the ones to baptize, serve the Lord's Supper, wed, or bury? There is nothing wrong with them doing so, but are we not ALL Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a Chosen Race?

So, to the practical outworking of how these things are carried out in simple house church settings...

The short version is that we deal with each situation as it comes up. In other words we don't worry about things until they need to be dealt with. This usually entails sitting down and helping them understand what God wants them to do in this situation. Sometimes they come right out and ask us to lead the ceremony. Often I will agree to do so this first occasion, but next time it is their responsibility. I view these opportunities to further train and orient the servant leaders by their watching me do it.

Baptism. We don't make a big deal over who does the baptizing. Any disciple can baptize. In fact disciples are commanded to do so in Matthew 28:18-20. Usually the way this works is that the house church leader will do so themselves with one or two assistants from the church. If for whatever reason they are not able, or do not wish to do so, they find somebody else to do the baptizing. It's not so much WHO does the baptizing, as in WHOSE NAME they are baptized.

The Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is a meal and regularly observed by the house churches. It is carried out in any number of different ways. One way is, again, to model how it is done. Many times when a group of new believers is ready for their first Lord's Supper, they will invite one of their mentors to preside. We gladly do so as a means of modeling a way of how it can be done. What is scary is that however we choose to lead during this time is often copied from there on out as "the way" to do the Lord's Supper! Over the years, though, I have seen a lot of creative and meaningful ways to celebrate this memorial.

Weddings. We have had many house church weddings over the past few years. Each has been special and meaningful to not only those getting married, but a blessing to the church as a whole. Sometimes I have been asked to perform the wedding, and have done so gladly. Usually though I will only perform the first wedding in a house church, but expect them to do any subsequent weddings. Sometimes the couple getting married will specifically ask their house church leader to do the ceremony. In these cases--and there have been several--the leader will come asking for help. We will sit down and step by step go over what needs to be done. We practice until they are fairly confident. It is important that the servant leaders be seen as empowered to carry out ALL the necessary tasks involved in church life. If we somehow leave the impression that only ordained pastors and missionaries can fill certain roles, we will harm the church's natural development. The last thing we want to do is create dependency upon the missionary.

Funerals. Again, we will go over with the house church leaders a basic outline of the kinds of things to say and do at a funeral.  I remember one house church leader being asked to preside over a wake. She had absolutely no experience or background to do so. In a panic she called several people to come to the rescue. None were available so she prayed to the Lord for guidance and went on to the wake. There, she was able to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, and was a great blessing to the family. She related that it wasn't that hard. It was just a matter of allowing the Spirit of God freedom to minister through her. She related they sang a few songs, she shared a passage of Scripture and a few words of comfort, the family shared their memories of the loved one, prays were said, and then she visited with the family.

The list really extends to many other natural church life functions as well. Praying for the sick, dealing with demons, counseling, baby dedications, home visits, anniversaries, birthday parties, etc. NONE of these are the exclusive domain of professional clergy. ALL are matters which normally should be carried out by Spirit-filled disciples. It is not about us and how highly trained we are, but about HIM and what He wants to do in and through us.

Wednesday, February 20

Taking into account the seasons that precede harvest

We speak of the harvest, but rarely take into account the seasons of plowing, planting, watering, and weeding that precede harvest.  In Kingdom work, too, there are seasons which precede and follow harvest times. Every season has its purpose.

When we find ourselves in one of these pre-harvest seasons we need to be fully engaged in that phase of the harvest cycle. In between harvest cycles, there is little we can do other than pray and wait upon the Lord. Since apparently we don't see anything major happening, we assume nothing is taking place. But God is always at work. We may or may not see or understand what He is up to, but He is active behind the scenes.

Prayer must accompany each phase in the harvest, but all the prayer in the world won´t speed up the process. If we are in the "watering" period it does little good to fret and cry out to God because we still haven't seen fruit from our labors. We have a hard time accepting that prayer doesn't seem to be able to accelerate or change the planting cycle!

We want Kingdom matters to operate on our time schedule and according to our expectations. When they don't we anguish, pray harder, and make adjustments to the way we are working thinking the fault is with us. If we can just do things better, correct our errors, then we will see the longed for harvest.

Often what we need is to do less and trust God more. He is at work in the invisible world to bring about all of his plans and purposes. In His time he will bring about His Kingdom.

Does "waiting on the Lord" mean sitting around doing nothing while we wait for the Lord to act?

I personally feel we can do only so much within a given season of the harvest. If it is plowing season, we can plow. If it is planting time, we should be throwing everything we have into getting that seed into the ground. Same goes for watering, weeding, and bringing in the harvest. But beyond doing what we can in the current cycle before us, there isn't a whole lot more we can do. So why stress, fret, and allow ourselves to anguish over things we have no control over?

The following 4-min. "Frog and Toad" story expresses this well.

Sunday, February 17

The difference between converts and disciples

The difference between converts and disciples is that disciples obey what Christ commanded.

Converts listen and might believe what they are taught, but little is applied in their own lives. With converts, activity takes the place of obedience. Converts are easily seduced into thinking if they are involved in Christian activities, they are doing the right things, and that is what makes them a follower of Christ.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is something quite different. It is not activity oriented. It is obedience to Christ's commands. Not how much we know of the Bible, but how much we obey what Christ said to do.

Everyone knows, or at least has heard about the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament. But how many Christians know and can quote the Ten Commandments of Christ?

As part of the Great Commission Jesus clearly instructs "teaching them to observe ALL that I commanded you..."

What exactly did Christ command?

One quick test to see how much of a disciple we really are is to grade ourselves on a scale of 1-10 on the approximate degree of obedience to each of the following commandments.

Add up the points. If you score 50% or greater, you lean towards being a disciple. If 50% or less, you lean more towards being a convert.  The Great Commandment: Matthew 22:37-40

1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength...

2) You shall love your neighbor as yourself... The Great Commandment: Mark 12:28-31.

3) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. The Great Commission: Matthew 28:19-20.

4) Love one another. The New Commandment: John 13:34-35, 15:12.

5) Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. The Priority commandment for every believer: Matthew 6:33.

6)  Do this in remembrance of Me. The Lord's Supper: Luke 20:14-20, 1 Corinthians 12:23-26, gathering in remembrance of Him

7) Wash one another's also should do as I did to you.  The Great Example Commandment: John 13:14-15.

8) Abide in Me.  The Commandment that is the secret to a fruitful life: John 15:4-8.

9) Beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. (The only specific request Christ commanded his disciples to pray besides the Lord's Prayer: Luke 10:2, Matthew 9:38.)

10) Love your enemies...Do good to those who hate you...Bless those who curse you...Pray for those who mistreat you... Do not pass judgment...Do not condemn...Pardon...Give... General Commandments of Jesus for victorious living: Luke 6:27-38, Matthew 5:43-48.

Christians should not measure their standing with the Lord (maturity) based upon their knowledge of the Gospel, but upon their obedience of what they know of the Gospel. We should never confuse our knowing the commands of Christ with obeying them in our personal lives. The Christian walk is not about what we know, but about how much we OBEY what it is we know.

Thursday, February 14

How to choose one's disciples

Who are your disciples?  This is a question we must consider if we call ourselves disciples of Christ. We can't avoid the issue: either we are obeying or disobeying what Christ said about making disciples.

How did Christ make disciples? How did he go about choosing who would be his disciples?

Mark 3:13-15 says, Jesus, "went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons."

Step 1: Pray
Step 2: Summon those the Lord has laid on your heart
Step 3: Appoint them
Step 4: Send them out to preach
Step 5: Give them the authority in Jesus Name to do all that is required.

While I personally believe the above five steps might be consiered apostolic functions, they are not exclusive to those in apostolic roles. Any believer wanting to disciple men/women can ask the Holy Spirit to:

-lay on their hearts people's names,
-summon and talk to them about joining our "apostolic team"
-share with them what the Lord has laid on our hearts,
-train and appoint our team to go out and make more disciples,
-send them out 2x2 to preach/teach/minister in Jesus Name, and
-help them understand and utilize the power given us in Jesus' Name.

This is the way it is done in the Kingdom. Yes, admitedly there are a lot of details not covered in the above broad outline. Yet, if we are serious about doing what Christ said, He will help us work through what must be dealt with. The question is, will we obey?

I am personally working my way through these five steps right now.  I am excited about what I anticipate the Lord doing the remainder of this year. How about you?

Tuesday, February 12

Solo los enfermos necesitan hospitales

Jeannette Walls en su memoria personal "El Castillo De Cristal" relata un incidente de su niñez cuando estaba cocinando y por accidente se incendió dejándola severamente quemada. Su mamá despreocupada la llevó al hospital. En poco tiempo sus médicos determinaron que Jeannette vivía en un ambiente pésimo con padres disfuncionales y al borde del mal trato. En su casa cada uno de sus tres hermanos tenían que velarse por si mismos ya que sus padres no hacían nada para atender a sus tres hijos.

Cuando Jeannette llegó al hospital encontró todo un mundo de maravillas y placeres que hasta entonces no conocía. Allí le daban de comer tres veces al dia--y buena comida! Todo el personal del hospital la trataba con cariño. Gente desconocida le traía regalos. Las enfermeras cambiaban las sábanas de su cama diariamente. En fin, un mundo totalmente a lo opuesto a lo que Jeannette vivía en su propia casa.

Con tantas comodidades nunca antes disfrutadas, Walls no quería sanarse de sus quemaduras. Pretendía estar en más sufrimiento de lo que estaba para convencer a los médicos de NO DARLE DE ALTA del hospital. Ella quería vivir para siempre allí en ese paraiso y no tener que volver a la triste realidad de su vida difícil y el mundo cruel afuera del hospital.

Muchos Cristianos son como Jeannette Walls. Se contentan con la atención y el buen cuidado que reciben en sus iglesias. En sus templos encuentran un oasis de tranquilidad en medio de un mundo cruel y lleno de problemas y dolor. Pero la iglesia no existe para ser un hospital permanente en la vida del paciente. ¿Qué hospital quiere que sus pacientes estén allí como miembros permanentes en un continuo estado de recuperación?

Como Jeannette, muchos no quieren salir del hospital. Quieren quedarse, y hasta buscan trabajos voluntarios y llenarse de cargos hospitaliarios, todo con no tener que salir de nuevo al mundo. Pero nuestro "Médico Celestial" sabe que no fuimos creados para pasar nuestros dias en un hospital. Más bien, fuimos creados para ser un hospital móbil entre gente verderamente enferma allá fuera en el mundo.

Jesús mismo dijo: "Los que están sanos no tienen necesidad de médico, sino los que están enfermos; no he venido a llamar a justos, sino a pecadores." (Marcos 2:17)

Se dice que en el Ecuador hay dos millones de creyentes evangélicos. Si esta cifra es real, ¿cuántos Jeannette Walls hay entre nosotros? Creyentes que año tras año se han acostumbrado a la vida de hospital y no quieren regresar al mundo de enfermos que se encuentra allí afuera? Si solamente el 5% de los supuestos 2-millones de creyentes se mobilizaran a los campos de "enfermos espirituales" y harían "hospitales de campo" en medio de esos enfermos, ¿qué resultados diferentes tendríamos?

Saturday, February 9

Is there such a thing as "called to full-time ministry?"

I am getting ready to go to camp tomorrow to speak to 200 youth on the subject of God's call to full-time ministry. Most of those listening to me tomorrow will certainly consider me--the missionary--to be somebody in full-time ministry. But I would argue the point that people like me are actually one step removed from full-time ministry! Most of my day revolves around other believers. Those who actually live, work, and study out in the secular world are potentially in a much better position to engage in meaningful ministry.

Jesus did not call us to remove ourselves from the world, but to be salt and light in the midst of the world.  Many of us so-called "full-time" ministers spend little time in the real world for which Christ died.

I agree with what Dale Losch writes, "The dichotomous notion that religious work is ministry and secular work is not has been very harmful. Speaking of the tragic disconnect between the world and the church, author Dorothy Sayers lamented: How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life!"

What I hope to share tomorrow with the youth is that where they live, work, study, and play is the most strategic place of ministry for any follower of Jesus. We must be intentional in all the relationships the Lord has allowed us to have. And realize that 'making disciples' where we are is our full-time job, but that doesn't mean we have to leave our secular job to do so!

Earlier this week I had coffee with a young man who is a medical student. He "gets this" about as well as anybody I have met in a long time.  During the week he has started a cell group at the university with his fellow medical students, has a house church in his home, and on weekends travels to a neighboring town for a new church plant with the rural poor. In his mind he is a full-time minister of the Gospel. I couldn't agree more.

Just imagine if all of Jesus' followers were actively engaged in making disciples where they lived, worked, studied, and played?  I believe that was the way it was in the first century where every one of Jesus followers was part of his called-out, chosen people, royal priesthood, part of his holy nation, and a people belonging to God, that all of us together might declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. (I Peter 2:9)

Wednesday, February 6

Dealing with painful real life issues in house church

A few months ago we were sitting around in a house church gathering when one of our sisters in Christ received a call on her mobile phone from her incoherent drunk husband. Our sister (we'll call her Rosa) was frantic because her two small children were with her husband and he wasn't faring well with them under the influence of the alcohol.

The bad part was Rosa did not know where her husband was living. They were separated. And Rosa could hear her scared children crying in the background. We finally managed to get someone on the line who could give us directions to the house. Rosa asked us to pray for her as she had to go get her children. After doing so, my wife accompanied Rosa to help get the children back to safety.

Upon arrival, Rosa saw that there was another woman at the house with her husband--something she had long suspected--but until that moment, had no actual proof.  She confronted her husband about having an affair and he was forced to confirm the fact.  Rosa's husband then began to get hysterical and told her to "get the _ _  _ out of there!" Rosa and my wife brought the kids back to the house where the church was praying.  Needless to say, they were in bad shape upon arrival. What do you say to someone in their moment of shock, bewilderment, anger, and grief? How do you explain things to those innocent children whose world is being torn apart?

As we gathered around Rosa we asked her how she felt. She opened up and through tears running down her face shared her raw feelings. It wasn't pretty. We, again, prayed over her and affirmed who she is in Christ, and to not let Satan further beat her up with his lies. We tried to express to her how much she is loved by God and us, her family in Christ.

After talking a while, Rosa asked if we thought it was a good idea she talk to her children about all that had happened. Up until then she had been "covering" for her husband and had not told them anything that was really going on. We affirmed her idea saying we thought it would be a good thing.  Mind you, all of this is taking place during the regular "church service."

At that point we gave Rosa a few minutes to collect herself, and then called her children into the living room. Rosa bravely shared for the first time with them the truth about what what had been going on and why dad was no longer living with them.  I thought she did a wonderful job of balancing the pain, while at the same time affirming that both parents loved them, and that they were not at fault for anything that had happened. We gave some time for the children to talk and ask their questions as well. Then all of us huddled around the family for another time of prayer.

Why do I share this? Because real life can be very messy. Pain is real. Believers are not exempt from bad things happening to them. Church is more than a nice service, a challenging message, or great worship. It is being a family together on mission with Christ to redeem a broken and sick world with the Good News.

Real families stick together through the good, bad, and ugly times. Real families stand up and fight for one another and don't abandon each other in the middle of crisis. Real families love one another and treat one another like, well...real family!  This is church. It isn't always pretty, but we are the redeemed, beloved Bride of Christ. The Chosen Ones. The ones He loves, heals, redeems, and restores. We, the church, are His eyes, ears, hands, and feet in today's broken world. We all need encourgement. We all need feedback. We all need one another when going through tough times.

Thank God for the church. I am glad to be part of churches like this one.

Monday, February 4

What missionaries wish they had known before going overseas*

*I wish I had had more realistic expectations.

-Answer from Mike in West Africa...
I could make a similar comparison to marriage. Many girls and young women have unrealistic ideas about the romantic bliss found in marriage and never see the problems or day-to-day hard effort needed to really make a marriage work. Missions is no different. In most missionary presentations,you hear about all the victories and what great things the Lord is doing. I think that is for two reasons. First, missionaries are trying to recruit people into the work, so they strongly emphasize the positive side. Second, most people, and maybe especially missionaries, don't want to be vulnerable and reveal that they have problems. This is not helped by the fact that church people want to put missionaries on a pedestal as super spiritual for being willing to sacrifice "all" and live under harsh conditions. So it is important to talk with missionaries one-on-one so you may be able to hear their struggles as well as their victories.

Another common fallacy is that the "heathen" are crying out for someone to tell them the gospel. There may be the rare exception (in Papua New Guinea, one tribe did build a church in anticipation of the missionaries coming to tell them the Good News), but in general, the "heathen" are blinded just like the Jews. They are not searching for God and are living deceived in the darkness of their blinded condition. One will most commonly find indifference to the message, and at worst, there will be downright opposition.

I am often amused by missionaries who have the idea they are going overseas to do a great work for Jesus. First of all, we are participating in the work that God is already doing. This is well-explained in the workbook Experiencing God. Of course, all your friends here will tell you what a great and wonderful thing you are doing. Then WHAM! You come face to face overseas with all your inadequacies and weaknesses. You realize how much you are actually going to have to depend on God to see something accomplished. Many missionaries when confronted with the reality of living in a foreign culture and the time needed to impact the people simply become discouraged, turn around and come home. It is only when we realize that we are totally dependent on God and wait on Him and work with Him that we finally see some beautiful fruit.

I wish I had known how difficult missions really is.

-Answer from Tim, who has been a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators since 1974, serving in Cameroon and the United States...
I would have gotten more cross-cultural training, especially focused on the culture to which I was going. I would have taken more time in language learning. But most of all, I needed realistic expectations. Working in a foreign field is the same as being in a war. I know. I've fought in both and the similarities are striking. There is not much glorious about warfare. It may look exciting on TV or in the movies, but in the trenches it's real life, and people get hurt and die. It's a lot of hard work, sloshing thru the rice paddies. It stinks. And the enemy has ambushes everywhere. Often you can't tell the enemy from the friendly. And your friends get injured and killed. It hurts.

The culture won't make a bit of sense and you'll even resent the people sometimes, or think how ridiculous they do things. But you will learn how to live there. You'll learn new cultural cues and you'll begin to see how they do make sense in your new culture. And in the learning, you'll grow to love the people. So learn to laugh at yourself!

Don't give up! When you go, determine that you're going to stay. It's like God meant marriage to be. It won't always be easy, but make it work! Don't expect the other person to change. Change as you need to. And there's probably no better environment to promote change in us than working in another culture.
I wish I had known language learning & missy relationships.

-Answer from Mike in West Africa, who is translating the Bible with WEC International.
Language learning is a long process. Most North Americans have never learned a language and do not understand the time, work, and patience needed. Even some missionaries don't see the importance of learning the language.

Most adults do not know how to handle the humiliation of learning a new language, of having people give them confused stares, just outright laughing at them, or becoming angry because you are in their country and can't speak the language. Many people in my language school suffered from loss of identity and inferiority. These were well-educated people who had been successful in their occupations back home. Now they were learning language full-time and couldn't understand why they were having such a hard time when they did so well in their home occupations. They didn't understand that learning a language is a completely different animal than making good grades in history or nursing. Being "smart" does not guarantee that you will automatically find learning language easy.

Never assume that you and your colleagues are going to be one big happy family. Generally you cannot choose who you are going to work with and no one is going to hit it off with everybody. So you may find that your colleagues have different interests and backgrounds that you cannot relate to well. You may find that they do things that are quite irritating to you. You may find some of your colleagues to be quite carnal, having major problems with anger, critical spirit, gossiping, etc. Good relationships take a lot of time and effort. I would say that it is just as important, if not more so, to spend time "bonding" with your colleagues as well as bonding with the nationals.
I wish I had learned about spiritual warfare.

-Answer from Tim, who has been a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators since 1974, serving in Cameroon and the United States.
I wish I had known more about my relationship to God and about spiritual warfare. One book every Christian should read is Victory Over The Darkness by Neil Anderson. This will help you understand and recognize spiritual warfare. Wherever you're living right now, you're in the middle of a battle. We need to understand the nature of that battle so that we can be victorious over our enemy. When we cross over into another culture, where satan has built his strongholds for centuries and where cultural cues vary, the battle looks different. However, our victory over the powers of darkness is still in Christ.

We all have much to learn in this life, and much of what God has to teach you, you'll only learn by going where He leads. So do some good thorough preparation, and then GO. Don't ever think you've got to be totally prepared before you go, or you'll never go.
I wish I had known how difficult long-term fruit really is.

-Answer from John McVay, who wrote the following after serving one year in western Europe.
On a short-term you may go to a responsive area and see numerous decisions for Christ. But among less responsive people-groups, missionaries often struggle with spiritual infertility. Sometimes those who make a decision may not follow through. On a short-term you saw people pray for salvation and then you were back on the plane. But as a missionary you may discover that this "convert" no longer even wants to see you.

If you want to see people saved, you need to spend time with non-Christians. But we were amazed at how much of our time was tied up in fellowship with other missionaries, people in the church, other national pastors, and friends who visited. We started to ask, "When was the last time we saw a non-Christian?" Then God led us to make contact with a pre-Christian every day. As part of this we invited families over for dinner once a week. Though few outsiders would come to a church meeting, no one turned down a dinner invitation!

Missions is sometimes a huge challenge. During our darkest days I would read Hebrews 11 aloud twice a day and pray for the faith to keep going. One day I continued into the next chapter and read Hebrews 12:11 "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful." I wondered if the Lord was disciplining me. Had I been disobedient? Then I read Hebrews 12:7 "Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons." Then I saw it. The hardship is something that God brought into my life. Then I reread verse 11 and exchanged the word discipline for hardship. "No hardship seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Like a good marriage, effective missions takes work. But it's worth every bit of it, too.
I wish I had known more about myself and being patient.

-Answer from Bethany who is serving in the Middle East with the Assemblies of God.
Here are my pearls:
  • Boredom is real. I heard that before I came, but I have found extreme periods of down time that I used to fill so easily. The first two months or so in a new place are the hardest as you establish new friendships and a new pattern of life.
  • Knowing yourself is very important. I have been stretched a phenomenal amount, especially in the first months of my assignment. If you have skeletons in the closet, God will bring them to light. Be willing to deal with them as they come up; don't push them away. God needs to break you to use you.
  • Be teachable and be a lifelong learner. It's easy to just depend on your ability to "figure it out once you get there," as firsthand knowledge may seem more dependable than book knowledge and theories. It's not true. Know before you go.
  • It takes time to ease into the structure. At home, I had lots of energy to fill my day from early morning to late at night. On the field it seems I tire so quickly. Realize that being stretched physically, emotionally, spiritually, and facing a new culture, language, living situation, etc. wears you out. It's okay to slow down. Being a missionary is not about being superhuman and accomplishing a long list each day. Some days all you'll accomplish is a trip to the grocery store or a government office. It's about trust and obedience and hearing the Master's voice.

  • I wish I had known how nationals view the economic status of missionaries.

    -Answer from Mike in West Africa, who is translating the Bible with WEC International.
    To me, my standard of living is drastically lower in a developing country. But no matter what level one lives at, the fact remains that you will always be considered wealthy in the eyes of the nationals. And in fact, you are wealthy. In our local currency $2,000 US dollars would equal a million, so almost all the missionaries are "millionaires" here. And even if you find it hard to live on the support you receive from back home, you still had enough to pay a ticket to come here, whereas your everyday national could never pay a plane ticket to visit another country.

    Also, one encounters the common idea that it is the duty of those with more money to distribute it to help others. So the nationals will never look at someone who has more money than them and lives at a higher level than them, and drives a car, as someone who is making a sacrifice. Don’t expect to be congratulated or thanked for the sacrifices you made to come. Americans in particular (and I speak as one) seem to have the idea that we must be constantly affirmed. Better get over that before heading overseas.

    Another fallacy is that nationals should applaud that you have "sacrificed all" to bring them good news about Jesus. The reality is that they probably won't give a hoot! Many missionaries go with the idea that they should be "appreciated" by the nationals for the sacrifices they have made. And of course we cannot serve God if we are not appreciated! Pray to be humbled now, before going out and being humbled overseas. Of course, depending on your job (doctor, nurse, well-digger), you might be better received than just a general evangelist. Or if you come to work a specific job by the church, they will be more appreciative than non-Christians. But I guarantee there will always come a time when you will feel that you are not "appreciated" (whether by the church, the heathen, or even your own colleagues).
    I wish I knew how to deal with conflict.

    Answer from Paul in CA who has served in Uganda and Rawanda for two years.

    When you want a job you usually put on your best for your prospective employer, like a first date, you hide all the bad and accentuate the positive. Unfortunately, I discovered after two failed attempts to work with missions agencies, this not a good way to "get married" to a sending organization.

    Just like my former wife and several bosses, I fell in love too fast, accentuated my and their positive points, and didn’t ask the critical question "How do they fight through a problem?" Neglect to do this and you will get seriously hurt.

    When you know how a spouse, boss, friend, co-worker, pastor, or mission agency resolves conflict you will know your chances of being able to have a long term relationship with them. Nice Christians who resort to threats, gossip, slander, lawsuits, giving the silent treatment, bullying etc. don’t tell you up front this is how they deal with conflict. You have to know them well before you commit to a long-term relationship. So find out how they fight before you sign up.

    *Reprinted from Ask A Missionary website which seeks to answer the common questions posed by people considering missions service overseas. The above is taken from the article,  "What missionaries wish they had known before they first went?"

    Sunday, February 3

    Our shifting missionary role

    Someone once defined missionary success as working oneself out of a job. When Linda and I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador as missionaries in December of 1987, we served in the center of where the action was taking place. We were in high demand by the churches, associations, and Ecuador Baptist Convention and all their related institutions and programs. Our advice and opinions were respected and listened to. Constantly we were called upon to preach, teach, administer, counsel, train, and coordinate ministries, institutions, and strategy. Rare were the days when we had an entire evening to ourselves without someone in our home, someone dropping by to chat, or the phone ringing day and night.

    Over the years, all of the above has continued to decrease to, what is today, a mere trickle of what it was 20 years ago. Has the work diminished? Not at all. In fact, far more is happening today on multiple levels than anyone could have ever imagined. But our own personal influence and role has diminished from what it once was. Our role has changed. While we are certainly still loved and respected by our Ecuadorian brethren, the things we used to do--as "principal actors on stage"--are now being done by those we once poured ourselves into years ago. The very men/women/youth we taught, counseled, trained, and encouraged have today taken our place. They are the ones now that others call upon, serve in "important" capacities, speak, teach, train, travel, lead, preach, etc.

    As I reflect back over the years of all the assignments, responsibilities, tasks, and roles we have played; ALL, without exception, are today in the hands of nationals who are doing an excellent job and we are so proud of them and the way they have risen to the task and call of our Lord!

    So what are we still doing here if we have successfully worked ourselves out of all our jobs?

    The task itself is far from completed. With only 7-10% of the population in Ecuador followers of Jesus Christ, much remains to see the Great Commission fulfilled in our region of the world.

    What I sense is most needed is not more missionaries continuing to come from other parts of the world, but  a shift in role existing missionaries play. Ecuador is today positioned to be a primary missionary sending nation, and less a missionary receiving nation.

    We "outsiders" who remain must see ourselves more in the apostolic roles of encouragers, enablers, equippers, trainers, motivators, connectors, and coordinators who are principally engaged in mobilizing God's people into the ripe harvest fields--not as fun as front line stuff, but necessary!

    While there will always be room for the first generation apostolic church planter who goes into unreached/under-reached territory to proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, and leave a NT ekklesia; in the later stages of a ripe harvest field (like Ecuador) we best serve the King by shifting our focus to helping the church see what remains to be done, how to accomplish the task, provide tools and training, and mobilize to lead hundreds of laborers to bring in the harvest God is giving.

    I can feel great about spending 30-40 hours a week directly engaged in proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples, baptizing 15-20 and hopefully planting 1-2 churches in a year's time...

    ...Or, I can spend that same time modeling, training, mobilizing several hundred others to do the same things, and at the end of the year see the Kingdom grow by dozens of churches and hundreds of baptisms and scores of new disciples also equipped to going out and making even more disciples.

    In the first role we are the primary actors on stage. Everyone sees us, needs us, and looks to us for direction. In the second we are behind the scenes and the ones "seen" are those we are coaching. The difference in the way we understand our apostolic/missionary role is between planting a church, and being an instrument in the Spirit's hands for dozens of churches planted all over the region.