Good Stuff About Being A Missionary
My last blog was “10 Things Your Missionary Won’t Tell You.” It received more comments, private emails, and Facebook shares than any blog that I have ever written. 99% of those comments were in agreement to what was said.
However, to be fair, I want to follow up that post with some good stuff. I love being a missionary! The following list is not a Bible Study, it is a personal experience of life after being on the mission field for almost 8 years.
Disclaimer: This list is not in any order whatsoever…just a brain dump written down while sitting up in bed one night.
Disclaimer 2: This is sharing my experiences and how I feel. It is not a judgement nor an indictment about living in the States. It is just what I like about living here.
One thing that I discovered after coming to the mission field is that before coming I really did not have that many friends. I knew a lot of people. I had a lot of acquaintances. However I really did not have the ‘call me anytime, no out of bounds, I am here for you, it is not a sacrifice to help you, I want to know you better’ type of friends. On the field, among other missionaries, there is more of a foxhole mentality. We are here together. We are serving the same Lord. For the first time in my life, I have really experienced the ‘one-another’ type of relationship that you see listed in the Scripture. I said that I am not putting this list in any order, but when I asked my wife beside me to give me a list of what she enjoyed about being a missionary, this was the first one on her list. It is a big deal to have really great friends who love you and Jesus and show it to you.
I have been in ‘vocational ministry’ since 1988. It has been a blast. I have loved serving as a pastor in the States and have been the Sr. Pastor of two GREAT churches there. However, it was not until I came to the field that I truly felt like I started impacting lives on a real scale. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good ministry in the States. I loved teaching the Bible. I had the joy of seeing hundreds of people give their lives to Christ. Yet something is different here. The best way that I can illustrate it is like this.
Suppose that God called me and gave me 5,000 bottles of water. He said that I could pass this water out to anyone that wanted it. I could choose where, when and how to give them out. Once they were all passed out, my job here was done. I picture two scenarios in my mind. The first one is setting up a tent at the local reservoir and water supply in the burbs. People come to the lake to have family picnics, to fish, and to water ski. They all have a great time and no one is doing anything wrong. People see my tent, and stroll by to get a bottle of water to help take the bite off of the fun in the sun day that they are having. They are appreciative and grateful for my water because it saved them a trip to the local store to buy some.
A second scenario would be for me to load up my water in the back of my four wheel drive jeep and then start scouring the desert looking for people dying of thirst. It is more work, and takes a lot more energy and effort. The up side is that every person that I give my water to is more than appreciative. They are alive. The water bottle was the difference between life and death.
That is how I feel. I believe that God has given me a certain gift mix. He has given me a few talents. He has also given me some time. I feel like what I am doing here is making an impact in the lives of people. I am doing more than helping fellow Christians learn a little more doctrine (although I am still doing that as a pastor and Bible teacher). I am being used by God to reach souls for eternity and save lives for now.
Focusing On What Matters
Living on the mission field, especially when you live among the poor, has a way of allowing me to truly prioritize my life. I cannot speak for anyone else other than me, but in my life I had allowed materialism, consumerism, greed, coveting and a desire to please others creep in unawares. There really is no other way to explain why I was living such a luxurious lifestyle in the States. I had adapted to the culture of ‘bigger, better, faster and more’. Life was about success. After coming to Bolivia and having the joy of being in a different culture, of being with the poor, of seeing life apart from comfort and consumerism, I began to realize what was really important. I was able to leave some bad habits and then even repent of hidden sins and allow God to change me. Life is not about what you think of me, or how much money I have, or the level of comfort that I can attain. Life is about Jesus. It is about helping people know God better and love Him more. It is about sacrificing my rights in order to help others. People matter to God. I need to focus on people. Living on the mission field keeps that priority in line. What is eternal? The Word of God and the souls of men. That is our focus.
Living On My Strengths
Okay, the next three things are way up on my favorite list. When I say living on my strengths what I mean is that being on the mission field allows me to do what I do best. I am not a ‘cog’ in some machine simply doing a job description that has been handed down to me. I am able to choose what I do and maximize my return by doing what I am good at and by limiting my time and energy in areas that I am not very strong. For example, I am a pretty decent communicator and Bible teacher. I am also a people person and love to evangelize, disciple, teach, and mentor. I can focus on that. I can do that. I do not have to attend a myriad of meetings in order to keep the bureaucracy or organization going. I can teach. I have taught in a Christian school here, helping 9th-12th graders learn the Bible. I have taught in seminary. I have taught in a mentoring school for pastors and church leaders. I have taught leadership and church conferences, marriage and parenting retreats, and led Bible studies. I am able to spend as much of my time doing this as I want to. In other words, instead of spending 30% of my time investing in what I am good at and 70% doing what is necessary for the organization. I am able to spend 70% of my time at what I am good at. I love to evangelize and share the story of Christ. I have opportunities every day do to that. As I told one pastor who was here on a short term trip, “In seven years I have never had to go to a deacon meeting or discuss the color of carpet or meet with the painting committee.” :)
This flows out of living on my strengths. I am not GREAT at anything other than loving my wife (got some points out of that one), however I am capable in several areas. As a missionary I am able to do more than one job description. I teach leadership and one of the things that we talk about is leading or managing. Neither one is more important than the other, they are just different. A leader can see what needs to be done and how to do it. A manager gets it done. In my gift mix, I am better at leading than managing. I tell my wife that I am really good at the 80 meter dash….too bad that the finish line is up there at 100 meters. However, if I can leave the dash and join a relay…if I can have someone to hand the baton off to, then I can go to another race and run another 80 meters with enthusiasm. Living on the mission field allows me to do that. I am able to help start ministries, to encourage missionaries, to invest in healthy networks and relationships. I have been able to preach the gospel to an Amazon tribe who had never had a missionary visit them before, help orphans and orphanages, build churches, start small businesses, feed the poor, provide surgeries for people, help dentist and doctors serve the impoverished, evangelize one-on-one and preach to large groups. I love doing a project or an event, and then doing something else. It helps me maximize my 80m dash.
Being With My Family
While I was a pastor in the States, I had a work week of 53 hours. That was my schedule. That did not include any power lunches or driving time. Now, as a missionary, I work on average 48 hours a week. However, the cool part is that I am never more than a couple of miles from my home. I have an office, and I also have an office at home. This allows me to be with my peeps a lot. I mean a lot. Bolivian culture does not do ‘power lunches’ like we do in the States. They just eat lunch and take care of business later. What this means to me is that everyday I eat lunch with my family and/or my wife. Since I am able to live on my strengths and avoid too many after work meetings, I am able to eat with my wife and/or my family every night. Last year, I took David and Josh with me to the office everyday and they did their school at a desk next to mine. If I need to run to the hospital or drive to someone’s house to help them in some way, I take some kids with me. When short term teams come and we build churches and houses, my kids work alongside of me. We went to the jungle for a week and the family went with us. Everyone from Mercy to Caleb (Seth and Jacob were in the States) lived in a tent in an Amazon tribal village and helped minister and build everyday. I love my family. They are my favorite. I get to be with the people that I love doing the things that I love.
Walking By Faith
I have taught for my entire ministry the importance of living by and walking by faith. However, the truth is that I never really understood what it meant. When you serve and live in a place where your next paycheck is always guaranteed, necessity is a word that you hear but do not personally know, and that focuses on improving comfort; it is hard to walk by faith. I do not mean that walking by faith is focused on money. What I mean (and am currently teaching at my church) is that walking by faith is hearing what God has to say through His Spirit and Word and then doing it. It is believing that God can and will use you. A wonderful example to me was Mary. When she heard that she was going to give birth to Jesus and was shown Scripture as a proof, her response was, “Okay.”. She simply believed that if God was going to use someone, then it might as well be her as the next person. Walking by faith is really believing that God wants to use your life as a blessing, hearing what He wants to do, and then acting on it. That, for me, was much more difficult to do in the States. It was hard to hear God speak to me in the middle of so much other noise. On the mission field when life is scaled down so to speak, the voice of the Holy Spirit has been much easier for me to listen to. This goes with an earlier point about focusing on what matters, but now I can see more clearly that God’s purpose in my life is not to give me comfort and possession. His goal is to receive glory from me as by faith I obey Him.
Seeing God Work
I love not only walking by faith, but actually experiencing God at work. A long time ago there was a study that became kinda famous. It was called “Experiencing God”. The idea of the study was that God is at work around us. We need simply keep our eyes open to what He is doing and then join Him in His work. Living on the field allows us to do that. We have networked with a lot of other missionaries. They are serving Christ and doing an incredible job. We are able to see God working and then say, “Hey, lets be a part of that!”. For example, my friend Tony is a mission pilot with a heart for reaching jungle tribes. He shared his renewed vision with me of starting 10 churches in 10 villages in 10 years. As I heard him speaking, I could sense that this was of God. So, I joined God and Tony. I have volunteered to do any pastoral training necessary and to build any churches when they are ready to be constructed. We have built one church and will be doing a village church leader conference later this month. God is working and I see it. I love that. I can look at my co-laborers in Christ, at my own ministry, and at the work of my Bolivian friends and see that God is working here.
More To Come In My Next Blog