Archive for October, 2016

More on the slow way of transformation in mission

I was on a call this morning with co-workers from around the world and we were discussing the role of mission workers in our communities. Entrance points and long-lasting transformation was a theme that came up. A guy from Central Asia gave a really interesting insight in what kind of entrances we have in our communities and how fast we often try to develop projects. He said that often times missionaries try to go extremely quickly, have a lot of ambition but this almost always leads to dependency. We provide the building, the funding, the timeline . . . .all the while we do not have the relationships or trust and we end up doing everything ourselves. You fast forward a couple years and those same determined, task-driven missionaries are whining their butts off about locals not joining them in the work. In a nutshell, we aren’t really doing much good for the very people we serve. Patience and going slow is difficult but the sort of slow transformation that last is beautiful.
I can often complain about more things than I cheer about. But I do have to pause and be thankful for the slow, steady growth that we are seeing. The Nepali church where we are involved has completely released us to speak into and work side by side with them in seeing God’s Kingdom grow around here. With every visit to a home, road trip, or ministry function, that trust deepens. We often like to think of resources in regard to money, buildings, or education. Those are certainly helpful. Yet, in so many places of the world, we see all these things being provided but there is no social networking or relationship to make any of it last. There is so much richness among Nepalis – social networking, helping each other out, hospitality. Today’s session with my co-workers this a.m. was a good reminder that slow and steady does win the race and the beauty of trust, transparency, and encouragement is a wonderful thing you get to experience along the way. 
For the last couple months my 21 year old neighbor has kept bothering me about starting a higher level English class for students in their late teens and early 20s. I have helped several students with writing essays, conversational English, and other sorts of issues but I kept pushing back on my neighbor’s suggestion. I asked him what would make an initiative such as this any different than any other program in the community. Typically, I’m a sucker for starting programs and running with them. Over the years though, I have learned the lesson that I shared above. When I move really fast, it usually ends up being me alone doing the work, championing my own vision, and then it all blows up in a relatively short period of time. Finally, after much prodding and pushing I agreed to start doing a higher level English deal in the basement of our house.
Because I did not initiate this, it just has such a different feeling. There is enthusiasm around the class. Students are already talking about how to grow the group. They are learning in a way they can understand. Time goes by quickly. There is so much potential in all of that. For me, the bigger message is not about this program or whether it succeeds or fails but what it is doing in the lives of my Nepali brothers who are steering it. Just last night my neighbor told me that his vision for the group is to set an example for many students in the community to see that it is possible to improve their English and succeed in college. He said that his dream is for students to turn around in a year or two and say, “Why are these people helping us so much? Why do they give English lessons for free? What is this all about.” And ad that time, we can say, “It is because Jesus has so changed our lives that we do everything possible to serve.” 
I have said these things before. I’ve had the very same thought. But man, when it comes from a 21 year old Nepali believer driving Christ-centered transformation in his own community it just makes all the difference in the world. This is the slow way of the Kingdom and we’re learning day by day. This would never be the road that I would choose but I’m thankful that Christ and His patience with me continually teaches me to walk patiently with my friends.

Transformation is slow, Miracles don’t happen every day

the way of transformation is slow. Miracles don’t happen every day. . . I guess that is why they are miracles. Life can be brutal and so many find ourselves in situations that we never predicted. The life we are living is likely not what we imagined for ourselves. But here we are, trying to make the best out of what has been given. Clearly, we do get to have these glory moments when it seems like the universe has revolved around our exact situation and nothing could be better, but many of us live pretty normal lives with normal interactions. And it is into this mundane sort of stuff that we find this slow, slow path of transformation.
I am thinking of a conversation I had with a dear friend several years ago. She was talking about working with several of her friends from Southeast Asia and she mentioned that she had some sexy ideas of saving the world abroad. But God led her to a small ethnic enclave community in a less than glamorous location in Minnesota. I came across her note recently:
The deeper I get into ministry and presence here in this community, the less and less I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster. Part of that is that when I stick around I get to see people healed! It’s such a process, and God has really spoken to me a lot in the past few years about sticking around. First I thought I was going to move to “Africa,” then I committed to go to grad school in California. I finally gave up on all my sexy dreams of going abroad to stay in my studio apartment in Minneapolis. But I wouldn’t trade the peace that comes from being obedient for any beach, ocean, or stardom. God’s got plenty in the pipeline comin’ our way…and it ain’t gonna be boring. And you know, it doesn’t feel like such a revolving door of insurmountable needs when you stick around because you’re more CONNECTED to people, resources, and you don’t see people isolated in their problems.
This old email today reminds me that the pressure is off. Transformation is not in my hands. Sure, we have a role to play. We work our tails off around here to try to do our part. . . .But God is the the Divine One who transforms. As we commit to daily surrender and love, God alone does His miracles. They don’t happen every day and in my life I would dare say they don’t happen often. But they do happen. Grueling, hand to the plow sort of relational discipleship is where we get to see God bust in and do His work. The pressure is off. The stress is not ours to carry. Christ bore all that. . . . Walking faithfully is our part.
The ministry context we are in continues to evolve and solidify. We are mostly working with Bhutanese-Nepali believers very new in their faith. Our dear friends don’t really have much of a framework for all the vision statements, flow charts, and processes that a mission organization such as mine employs. The amount of education, years of experience, and presentations I have given doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight. We continually find ourselves amid Nepali relationships with a completely different paradigm for understanding success or ministry. It is in the midst of this context that I have to come back to the simple truth. My Nepali friends would give their life for me. They may not get exactly it is what I do or even how I would like to come alongside and serve but they know Jesus. They love as Christ loves and give as He gives. Maybe clout, recognition, and all that jazz is way overrated.
The pressure is off. We’re not the Messiah and were never asked to be so. We faithfully walk over a long period of time and God does His miracles. Donors looking for a big, janky project may not get super excited about the slow grind of transformation that begins with many whom the world has ignored but we are convinced that this is what Jesus does. He takes the wisdom of this world, flips it on its head, and shows His matchless glory. 
May we all continue to let go of things that we were never intended to carry. May we realize that we are not nearly as important as we think we are and perhaps we were never intended to put all of our emphasis on hitting a home run at this moment or that moment. The way of transformation is slow. Miracles don’t happen every day. When we stick around, we get to see people healed and made whole! That is beautiful guys. . . . so, so beautiful.