Have you ever been asked to commit a bare minimum of thirty (30) years to a job before?
Last night we were hanging out at Scott’s place talking about what it means to actually be a church and he had mentioned some missionary friends of his that were in some aboriginal community seeking to evangelize in a very cool and intense way. Before departing, they were asked to commit a minimum of thirty years to living there and working there to learn the language (strictly oral language; not written down in any manner), translate Scripture (thus far they’ve managed about four books), and teach the way of Christ to people who have never known anything but their small village. Far different from the door-to-door approach we’ve probably all experienced here in the States.
What would compel someone to make that kind of commitment? Here in the States if we show up to a church and we wind up not liking it, we’ll walk out the door, cross the street, and right into another church that we might like. These missionaries, a husband and wife, have no option. Either they commit everything to learning about their neighbors or God knows what might happen to them. It wouldn’t be uncommon for these types of environments to kill someone they didn’t like.
Of course, risking death on a mission trip is – as far as I know – somewhat common. What I’m finding uncommon is to completely remove yourself from anything and everything familiar – cars, houses, pantries full of food, friends to call up when you’re bored and want to watch a movie, cable TV packages to turn on as background noise while you wash dishes – to a place where you literally had to start from scratch. As far as I know, they had no way of knowing they’d be able to put together a meal on their first night there, let alone having a place to sleep. I’m not sure I’d be able to function without all those safety nets.
In relation to what we talked about last night (church), these missionaries did something not many of us would do even here in America with all our comfort zones. They approached a community who had no care or concern for anything American, learned their language, their customs, their belief systems, and then started to evangelize. Instead of knocking on their door with a brochure or a business card referring them to their church, they learned what these people were about. They learned how to communicate with them – taking several years just to get that far – and then started speaking about God. Gaining the community’s trust, they then pointed to Jesus.
It’s changed the way I’ve thought about the people around me – both Christian and non-Christian alike. What do I know about them? Whenever we hang out, do I do most of the talking about my story or do I get to hear something about theirs? Instead of expecting them to be interested in the things going on in my life, have I been interested in the things going on in theirs? Have I talked to them about Jesus or about me? And do I know what Jesus looks like through their eyes?
Tough questions to ask, I know, but needed questions if I’m seeking to be more like Christ. Because what I’m finding one of my own tendencies to be when it comes to friendships is requiring the other person to conform to my way of doing things. I’m sure these missionaries brought some forms of American culture with them (it’d be difficult not to), but for the most part they learned how the people of their community did things before they talked about how they did things. When it comes to making friends within a church, I’ve been prone to find people who fit my style rather than adapting my own style to fit those of others. It beckons the question: If I don’t show that I’m interested in how they do things, why should they ever be interested in how I do things?
God’s challenge to me is to start learning the various languages within my environments – be it church, my apartment complex, or even work. There are a lot of negative things about living in America, sure, but there are also a lot of positives; we have such a wide range of cultures and customs living right next door to each other. Unlike many countries in the world, we have the opportunity to learn how someone else does things simply by getting lunch or coffee with them. We have the right to speak freely, sure, but perhaps we’d better take advantage of the opportunity to listen to someone else speak to us.
If we allowed ourselves to truly and genuinely care about someone else for thirty years, can you imagine how receptive that person might be if you started talking about Jesus?
Instead of finding people who match you, find someone to adapt to – even just a little. God’s love would be reflected and therefore preached, especially if no words were used.