Equipping a Missionary

I want to tell you all a story. It’s not my story to share, but the people who own it are in the bush at the southern part of the world, with only the poorest, most intermittent of Internet connections… but even if they weren’t, I’m not sure they’d tell it the way that I will.
In fact, truth be told, I don’t know much of the story at all. Bits and pieces, distant memories, anecdotes, and what I’ve pulled together from various e-mails and a couple in-person conversations a few years ago.
But even so, I want to tell this story. And if anyone reading can correct or update the details, please do so…

When I was young, my parents led a Missionaries in Training small group in our home, through the church. It was young adults who all had an interest in, or passion for, missions. And my family’s relatively short, 13-month mission trip to Bangladesh made my parents the closest thing to resident experts on the topic available in our little town.

As far as I know, every one of those young adults who were serious about their participation in that group are on a missions field somewhere today. There’s this notion that world missions is something only a small fragment of Christians are called to do. The reality, I think, is that a lot more are called, they’re just not listening.

At any rate, all of those in that group listened, and this story is about one of them. A young man named Dave, and later his wife Judy, joined a mission organization called New Tribes Mission. In my (indirect) experience NTM is one of the most disciplined and demanding missions groups in the world — and with good reason. They send their missionaries to some of the toughest places in the world. Their goal is to reach tribal people in unreached countries, and to that end the training required before someone can even leave North America is intense.

Not only is there Bible training, and language training and translation training, but there’s survival training, where a candidate and their team are sent into a bush armed with the bare minimum in supplies, and required to live there — building their own house, finding their own food — all with the work of their hands and the sweat of their brow. There is no Walmart in the tribal communities of Africa. No cable TV or high speed Internet. There aren’t even toilets. So these candidates experience that, and have to make it through that, before they can even consider being sent out.

Of course, not all missionaries are called into the bush. Some have different challenges, in cultures certainly more civilized, but no less foreign. Dave and Judy, though, felt called to this extreme kind of work, and found their passion among the people of Papua New Guinea.

PNG is east of Indonesia, near the South Pacific Ocean. It’s the Eastern half of the Island of New Guinea. If you look above Australia, slightly to the right, you’ll find it. It is a rain forest environment, with active volcanoes, severe earthquakes and tsunamis. The CIA factbook notes that the risk of infectious disease is “very high.” Over 820 indigenous languages are spoken there, although Pidgin is spoken by most people engaged in trade.

Papua New Guinea Map
It’s those indigenous people that Dave and Judy have been called to, and once they were done their multi-year training with PNG and completed their multi-year support raising process, where they travelled to any church that would have them, and tried to explain to the comfortable Christians sitting in their cozy North American pews the dire need of tribal people on the other side of the world for the gospel of Christ communicated in their own language, they set out for the jungle. Somewhere along the way, bringing 3 kids into world.

The built their own house, complete with do-it-yourself electricity, water and communications with the outside world. They worked with other missionaries in the area coordinating food and supply runs, building an airstrip so they could bring in what they need to live off of and start an effective ministry. They worked for years, just getting a base set-up.

And then the language training started in earnest. If NTM is demanding on their pre-missions training, then they’re perfectionists when it comes to in-field languages. So many fields, including the one Dave and Judy are on, are victims of fly-by Christians. Well-meaning people who understand the gospel, but don’t understand discipleship. They fly in, translate a few key passages of scripture, get a few ‘I believes’ from the natives, and think their job is done. The result is that a mangled form of Christianity gets co-opted into the local superstition. They understand that there’s a God — but they think He’s that tree over there, so they pray to the tree and bring the tree offerings, and ask the tree for forgiveness so that the spirits of the dead will leave them alone… and someone somewhere is patting themselves on the back, thinking that they’re doing a great job of spreading God’s word.

NTM will make no such mistake anywhere. And to ensure that no one has the opportunity to misrepresent God’s incredible plan, no one teaches until they are beyond fluent in the native language. In a place like Paupa New Guinea where languages have evolved by absorbing other influences — including neighbouring tribes — there are no rules of grammar, no conjugation… no easy mapping between English and… whatever a given tribe happens to speak. The end result is that it takes years — 6 years, if I remember correctly, before a missionary in PNG can even apply to have their language skills tested. And even once they’ve passed those tests, they don’t teach until they’ve translated the material, and had it examined and approved — a process that takes at least another 3 years.

By my estimation, Dave and Judy were on the field, in the jungle for at least 7 years, doing all of this before the real challenge came. Another missionary couple arrived at their base, ostensibly to help, but in reality all they did was hurt. Most of us have experienced some pain or another at the hands of a well-meaning Christian with all the sensitivity of a battering ram. Sometimes its malicious — most often its just because even Christians are stupid and human, and therefore imperfect. Dave and Judy ended up back home in Canada, completely unsure what was going to happen to their life’s work.

Fortunately, they had long ago learned to lean on God and trust in Him, so they took the time off, and left their base in God’s hands — knowing it was really His work anyway. And for at least 2 years, they waited on Him, not knowing for sure if they’d be back. Not knowing for sure why God had allowed such a painful set-back to their ministry. Probably feeling stranded in a country that was now foreign to them, where they didn’t feel like they were doing what they were built for.

I lost track of them for a bit in there, during our own country-hopping, but at some point, they made it back to PNG. And they didn’t waste any time. They quickly got their base back into shape — literally fighting back the jungle that had begun growing into their house and taking over their buildings. The years at home had crystalized their vision and their purpose, and they promptly began building a school/church where their teaching could take place. They reconnected with their relationships with the local tribe, and began hammering out their translation work, calling in help from all the connections they were able to re-establish there in their real home country.

This February, after probably decade and a half of work and pain and joy and tears, Dave and Judy got what they devoted their lives too: clearance to begin teaching God’s word among the tribal people of Papua New Guinea. Their language skills checked out, their translated materials passed inspection, and their leadership team of local people and support missionaries in the field were ready. On February 8, I got an e-mail, its simplicity belying the incredible effort behind what it represented, saying that they would begin teaching the next day, staring with 8 lessons a week, ramping up to 10.

Dave teaches in the classroom they built that shelters the people from the rainy season. It is packed out everyday, and when it really rains, he uses a megaphone so that the people can hear him. He finds creative ways to relate the gospel to the lives of the tribal people, and I can’t imagine the joy he feels as they respond. They’ve had to add more benches, because the 100 seats they built weren’t enough.

I imagine Dave is like a runner, who’s been training his whole life, and for the past few years, crouched at the blocks, just waiting for the gun shot to go off to finally let him loose. And man, can that guy fly…

I imagine that there are some of us that feel a bit like Dave and Judy must have. Of course, few of us will have the calling or the ability to tackle an adventure like Papua New Guinea. But each of us is built for a purpose. And if we’re willing to pursue God, He will prepare us to do that work. Sometimes the preparation is long and arduous. Sometimes we wonder why God puts us through stuff, or why He won’t just let us do it already! But He knows what He has in store for us, and He knows what kind of preparation will be necessary for us to be successful in that work.
Maybe its language study, maybe its traditional schooling, maybe its learning self-discipline with our minds or our finances or our time. But God knows what we need — and He knows how great it will be when our training is complete, and the gunshot goes off, and we’re off running, living out what we’ve learned, using what He’s equipped us with, and watching with overwhelming joy as He grows the seeds He’s planted in us and through us.

Few of us will have to experience the preparation period that Dave and Judy went through, but if we desire to be obedient then I imagine all of us will require some refining before we are as useful for the kingdom as we want to be. If you’re in that right now… take joy in that refining and equipping process — the harder it is, the bigger God’s plans are for you!

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Sideblog Archive – February, 2009

life is a narrative. a story with a beginning that began before any of us existed, but with a chapter that belongs to each of us. only this story is one of those choose-your-own adventures, and there are good paths to follow and wrong paths to follow, and sometimes, no matter what path you choose, crap happens anyway. but if we do our best not to go too far from the good path, this amazing thing happens, that doesn’t happen in any other kind of story — the individual chapters begin to weave themselves together in strange and wonderful ways, and suddenly you find that your little piece of the story has helped, or has been helped by, someone elses. and you realise that there’s this incredible over-arching story line that’s been plotted out since before the first word was written on the first page, and in your brief chapter, you fit into it in a marvelous and unpredictable way.
and the author of that story? He loves you more than you can image.
and the best, most amazing path in your choose-your-own chapter? that’s the one He wants you to find.

You see, most blokes will be playing at 10. You’re on 10, all the way up, all the way up…Where can you go from there? Nowhere. What we do, is if we need that extra push over the cliff…Eleven.

For most of my adult life I have had only two speeds: 0 and 11 (because its one louder than 10!) Nicole’s always been a bit steadier than me, but her own dial is, necessarily, a function of mine. We’re used to every single day of the week being full of stuff to do, and the only time I’d hit zero is when I got sick or injured… which had started to happen with more frequency.

I used to be entirely unable to sit at home for more than two evenings in a row. I’d start to go stir crazy and I’d have to find something to do, or fix — or break so that I could fix it.

Its been quite an adjustment for us, then, to settle into our little house, in a little village, and into a more… healthy pace. I’d say things have been busy lately, but on my imaginary dial, “busy” is like a 5 now: a steady, but far from torrential flow of interesting projects, events and appointments. Some weeks, I don’t even start the car between Wednesday and Saturday.

But even this pace has taken some ramping up. A lot of the things we had previously built into our lives every time we moved to a new place are either unavailable, or just don’t seem as pressing now. Its been slow going picking out the things we really think are worth it. And whether by happy accident, or by some divine intervention, none of those things have been terribly demanding. Aside from work, I don’t have a single outside commitment that demands a frequency greater than once every 2 weeks. Its not that I’m not willing, its just that the demand isn’t that high.

– We’ve finally started a small group that meets in our home. After much debate about the time, and a fair bit of canvassing for attendees, we’ll be meeting with a group of 5-7 people every other Tuesday evening. We hope to grow beyond that, but this is a good place to start.
I’ve been incredibly disappointed with all the small group material I’ve found, to this point. Most of it seems to be designed for passive interaction: the group watches a 20 minute video, discuses 4 or less questions, and then its done. This is not what I had in mind, so it looks like I’ll be doing a little bit of work on a bi-weekly basis to prepare a group discussion, based on some Christian books (and related Scripture) that we’ve decided we’re all interested in learning about. Certainly I can handle that.

– I’m doing a video editing elective at church, teaching students how to use Final Cut, and maybe some other software. It seems to me that knowing how to collect video clips onto a timeline with some basic transitions is an essential life skill these days — even my parents know how to upload to YouTube — so it seems worthwhile. I enjoy teaching a lot, and the commitment thus far is one hour a month, plus maybe an hour of prep time, so its easy to just have fun with it.

– I’m joining a local Mac Users Group… for a couple reasons. Working from home has its advantages, but I do occasionally miss interacting with co-workers. A Users Group has minimal social requirements, but mostly its just a bunch of geeks, talking about something they enjoy using. You don’t really have to prove yourself any more, or learn anything new, or work really hard to fit in. You just show up with a Mac and be around people.
Last Thursday I attended one of their bi-weekly meetings and it was absolutely delightful. Many (but not all) of the members were older folk, with relatively low requirements for a computer, but they were true geeks nonetheless, having been meeting for 20 years. I wrote a post about users groups before, so I won’t wax too long on the subject, but suffice it to say, it was an enjoyable hit of nostalgia for those (relatively) early years of computing.
On top of those benefits, though, I’m going to be speaking at an upcoming meeting — and hopefully continue to do so occasionally. I really enjoy public speaking, and I’m decent at it, but its a skill that I’d love to develop and grow. The subject matter is safe and easy, and the audience enthusiastic, so it seems a good place to stretch myself a little bit.

– And finally there’s a bi-weekly commitment that involves some good old-fashioned manual labor, with a fun team of caring people. After sitting at a desk for 40 hours a week, it feels good (and sometimes a little painful) to do some actual work. Projects around the house are great, and I’ve had some success with those, but nothing beats working with a team, and helping other people.

Some weeks I help out with the young-adult evening service at the church, or prepare a video for Pastor Mark‘s sermon, so in a given week, I spend maybe 9-10 hours on outside commitments, leaving plenty of spare time for study and prayer, reading, and working around the house, with the majority of my week spent on my job and my family — and slow progress on Mandarin lessons with Nicole. Its still sometimes a little odd or frustrating for me to live at this slower pace, but I’ve gotta admit that I’m starting to like it.

Monday’s super lame holiday, where it was too cold to do anything fun outside, but all the stores and malls were closed so you couldn’t really go out and be inside, threw our routine off a little bit. Nicole and her mom and sister went shopping in the States, while Ben, Abi and I found people to see to keep us from getting too bored. Tuesday was a catch-up day from the weekend, and today we’re back into our routine… And we think we’ll hang out there for awhile…

This year’s tax season is complicated, but looking lucrative, and should put us in an awesome position for some bigger adventures next year. Until then, more of you should come visit us in our quiet little village. We can sit in the hot tub under the stars and discuss the mysteries of the universe… its really quite nice!

I should tell you about a great opportunity for a smart person like you to get in on the ground-level of an exciting new home-based business venture…

I was once told that most recessions are self-fulfilling prophecies. People have a reflex reaction to the notion that the economy is turning downward, which tells them to hoard their money, and keeps them from investing. As a result of that lack of investment, the economy does, in fact, turn downward.

What we have today may not be the result of such a self-fulfilling prophecy. Its more likely to do with our, relatively new, idea of debt as a foundation for wealth — a house of increasingly fragile cards.

Nonetheless, the economy isn’t in great shape. I know 3 people in my orbit of life who have lost jobs due to layoffs or cut-backs. And others who’s jobs are becoming less and less worthwhile. The temptation, of course, is to find some alternate method of making money quickly. After all, we’re used to swiping a card and getting what we want, so why shouldn’t work come just as easily?

Now I’m treading carefully here, because I’m well aware that no one’s job these days is particularly safe, and if left jobless, I’m not sure to what lengths I would go to provide for my family. But there’s a trap in here, that I have to say at least a few words on:

mlm11A Multi-Level Marketing company is not a good way to make money. Just like the, now illegal, pyramid schemes of yesterday, an MLM business is one designed to abuse everyone except those at the highest levels of the “up line.”

Granted, some are better than others. There are a few with an actual decent product to sell, but most of the ones I’ve been “invited” to join market products with questionable value — and do so by design, since actual sale of a product is not the primary focus of the business.

Don’t know how to spot an MLM? Its really simple: if you went to a job interview at, say, McDonald’s, and the hiring manager not only offered you the job without question, but told you how you could make even more money if you brought two of your friends in to work under you, would you be suspicious? I would.

The only difference between a pyramid scheme and an MLM business is the product. For some, the product is unique and you might be willing to put up with the organization just to be able to obtain and share that product. That’s fine. However, to do so under the illusion that you’ll also have a sustainable business is very, very risky. The only way to move up in an MLM organization is to subjugate your friends — your “network.”
And not only is it necessary, in order to make money, to recruit your friends to start a “business” under yours, but its necessary for you to insist that your recruited friends recruit their own friends to do the same. The bigger the pyramid underneath you, the more money you’ll make. Similarily, the more people in your up-chain, the more money they are making off of you.

Once in college, my roommate and I simultaneously got a job interview. We put on our suits, and showed up… to a room full of other, similarly conned students. Not too surprisingly, we “got the job” with very little effort. And I was quite furious with my parents when they weren’t excited for me.
The company sold kitchen knives. Good knives — probably the best I’d ever seen. They cut circles around the knives I had in my kitchen, and I’m sure they were a very good product. After they demonstrated the product, they told us how the business works. There were perks, you see. It was commission only, so the more knives we sold, the more money we’d make. But there was also an “opportunity” to grow our own knife business. All we had to do was get our friends to sell knives for us! And for every seven friends we signed up, we’d get a free trip to Florida!

We found the “job” on a billboard at school, promising students “$30,000 a year in your spare time!” When both of our parents berated us for falling for it, we looked into it a bit further. The only people who made that kind of money were the people running these “group” interviews. Extending their “network” and their “down line” by suckering students who didn’t know any better.

Since then, there’ve been other “job offers.” One guy, in particular, preyed on students working at Future Shop (the Canadian Best Buy, where I worked while in school) telling them what great potential they had as businessmen. My roommate and I each fell for that dude once — even inviting each other to come to the meeting/interview.

What makes me mad isn’t the people who like a product for its merits, sell it to a few of their friends, and make a little money on the side from it. I’m pretty sure even my mom went to a Tupperware party or two. Its the people who understand how the business works, and prey on others, promising them a quick and easy solution to their money/career problems, when they know full-well that all their really doing is building a pyramid underneath themselves. The ethical problems with building a “business” this way are staggering — not to mention the social immorality of turning your friends and family into a “network.”

We all know that the economy isn’t great right now. A little bit of individual responsibility: avoiding debt and investing wisely could probably go a long way to fix that. But if you find yourself in a grim situation, that appears to have a too-good-to-be-true solution, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the chain-of-command above me look anything like a pyramid?
  • Does this job reward me for recruiting my friends?
  • If this product is so great, why isn’t it sold through the normal (and successful) retail chain?

And if you think its worth it anyway, cause the product is helpful to you, or you could use a little extra cash, at least read this article on MLMs (or this shorter one about how to spot an illegal MLM) and resolve not to subjugate anyone you know with your new business.

In His Own Words

Every night before bed time, Nicole or I (usually Nicole, since I put Abi to bed) reads Ben a story. Tonite, Ben wanted to read one to her. He chose Thomas & Friends – Really Useful Engines. According to Benjamin, it goes something like this…

Page 1: WOW! Choo-choo! Uh-oh!

Page 2: Choo-Choo! Head, teeth. Moo, uh-oh!

Page 3: Wooow! Stuck! Uh-oh!

Page 4: Thereitis! Moo! Bye!

Page 5: Thereitis, thereits, thereitis. Wow! Juice.

Page 6: Choo-choo! Moo, moo, moo. Bye!

Page 7 : Moo, moo, mooo, mmmmmoo, moo, MOOO!

Page 8:  Uh-oh! Bye!

Clearly if this were what the book actually said, it would be an instant bestseller among 1-2 year olds everywhere.

Oh Canada

We haven’t got a terrible lot to be proud of lately. We have a ton of land that no one really wants to live on, a generally inept government, a weak currency, a relatively laughable military, slow technology up-take, high taxes and a less-then exemplar health care system.

Having lived in the States and seen both sides of the border, I can say with confidence that there are pros and cons to both countries. Some of Canada’s cons are particularly frustrating.

However, there are a few things we get right, and this video shows off two of them.

A group of students from Humber College, here in Ontario, built a radio, from scratch, with which they successfully contacted the International Space Station. If you watch the video, you can see reflected in that group the passionate message of the astronaut they’re talking to, one Sandra Magnus (to be fair, a pretty cool American). And you can really see what makes Canada great…

First of all, these are students. Geeky kids, with a somewhat greasy prof, who intuited their way to a unique and effective solution, using a fraction of the resources that an Ivy League school might have. Humber is not an impressive institution. But even there, approaching the bottom of our post-secondary barrel, the level of education Canada offers is vastly above-average.

Secondly, take a look around the room, and see the different, unique and un-assimilated people-groups represented there. This isn’t a classroom full of sameness. From our smallest colleges to our loftiest institutions, we are not a melting pot. Instead of a culture that demands an elimination of distinctness, we embrace it. We learn to work together with people of different backgrounds, different passions, and different beliefs. No (good) Canadian presumes superiority due to race or creed, and none of us fear the other because of our differences.

While its true that there are absolutes, and that, at the end of life, each of us is going to find out who picked the winning team, the reality is that faith means we have no proof. And the Christian faith means that we live like Christ did — not standing for injustice, certainly, but not in fear or hatred of those to whom our Truth has not been revealed, either.

There’s lots of things Canada doesn’t get right, but we can be proud of the fact that we have figured out, like the astronaut looking down at our lonely blue rock, that we’re all in this together, and we’re better off communicating and working together through peace than we are through war.

Update: Here’s another reason us Canadians can be proud of ourselves!