I was perusing through up-to-date research about mission work as I spent some time in self-reflection of this mission when I came across this statistic: “The average Western missionary spends only 3% of his time involved in direct evangelism. (Yohannan, Come Let’s Reach the World, 35)”. This left lingering discomfort and unbidden questions. What do I make of this statistic? What exactly am I doing here?
These questions were reinforced in an impromptu meeting with some other of the missionaries where we were stirred to ponder the “fire” we had for this project and whether or not it needed to be rekindled. Whatever the condition of our fire, I was in awe at the stories shared by one of the missionaries about the amazing opportunities for evangelism given her. However, if the statistic above is true, the questions remains, will I be a part of that statistic, am involved in evangelism more than 3% of the time?
The sort of work I have been doing here is not what many imagine to be mission work. The first assignment given to me of obvious spiritual nature was to give a message of enrichment to the staff of our school. The message I gave spoke of practical applications to the meaning given by Christ for the washing of feet in these days where the dust of the world clings to us as we tread about in its systems. This message had ministered to me only a few days ago in reading the works of Watchman Nee and I just could not keep it to myself.
In retrospect of this opportunity, I learned that we should be encouraged to take advantage of every opportunity in which to share the knowledge and wisdom imparted by the Spirit “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13).
This opportunity of ministering to the staff for growth together is a normal occurrence and I look forward to sharing every time my turn comes again; but still, questions remain. Because of the language barrier and constant need of a translator, does the message penetrate their hearts? Is it efficacious in bringing about the edification of all believers? And some may also ask, “When will the real mission work begin?”
Aside from our daily joint worship at the school we also meet with the teachers each week to open the Sabbath. Of course, Anthony and I did not know any of the teachers very well, so when they invited us to have a meal with them for the first time we were eager to accept the invitation. We took advantage of the time to bond by sharing about ourselves and of our journeys with God. We were also offered authentic Khmer cuisine which reminded me of what Jesus said in Luke 10:28 “Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you”. So, without any question, we broke bread together as we listened to testimonies of Christ’s work in their lives.
This experience encouraged me that any opportunity for sharing the love of Christ through word or deed can be created by gathering strangers and friends together for the breaking of bread as Jesus and His disciples did. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42) (also encouraged in Hebrews 10:24-25). But what about ministry? Where’s the evangelism? What else am I doing?
An addition to our work here is breaking bread (studying scripture which is our daily bread) twice a week with another of the teachers by the name of Bunthieng. This study was no doubt an inspired part of God’s plan as both Anthony and I spent the previous year in intensive training, learning how to share our faith and study God’s word while developing friendships with people we had just met. Now, through God’s grace, with the Holy Spirit as our guide and the messages provided in Truthlink, we meet with our brother Bunthieng to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ and to plant a seed of encouragement that He may begin to study with others in the community as well.
Each time we are blessed with a new knowledge and understanding of God, ourselves, and one another; challenged with difficult questions and honored with dutiful explanations in simpler language to give clarity for our beloved brother. Still, questions may be raised: will he understand what it all means? Will he desire to share this message with others as it is designed to be? What about the unreached? Like most of the staff, Bunthieng has already accepted Christ into his life; so, am I even doing mission work? Perhaps another activity will fulfill my call to this project.
This activity occurs every Sabbath, where the other missionaries, church members, some of the students from the school, and I travel out to the Pnong village to study the scriptures at the house of a faithful member of the Pnong people. Though the Pnong are a minor people group given no special honor by the invading Khmer, she and her neighbors find no reason for detachment or snobbery; in fact, quite the opposite is true. They greet us each week with smiles and songs of praise as we deliver to them a message from God’s word.
While I look forward to this event with great anticipation questions of its effect still remain. Is it sound in their minds? Does it bear meaning in any such way to them? Are their lives being transformed as they go from that place? Even though this is the “direct evangelism” as the statistic is referring to, am I fulfilling the work of Christ and promoting success in the purpose in which He has called me?
The answer to the question of if I am fulfilling my purpose here was found when God lead me to realize the primary purpose to which I was called here, teaching (of which I hope to share more of). My students aren’t necessarily all Christian, and some are Pnong (the people group my project description determines for me to be working with); thus God has, in fact, fulfilled the purpose He brought me here for by giving me that role.
My efforts are still to learn the language to be able to make friends in the community and share with them the precious hope and freedom I have in Christ or at least introduce them to the various ministries and friendships the church has to offer. But God has also appointed it to Anthony and me to make friends with those already in the faith encourage them in their journey, and teach them how to share their faith with those they can more easily relate to and communicate with (this is what we are doing with the teachers and church members) as this figures to be most efficient considering the duration of our stay here; for this too is mission work.
All things considered, please continue to pray for us. My brother in ministry (Anthony) and I are given many opportunities for ministering to the people, from preaching or leading out in Sabbath school to teaching our students to sing “Jesus Loves Me” or giving a warm smile to the gas station guy. Each person we encounter from the school to the market is subject to be met with Christ’s love through us, and we know that our very prayers are sanctified by Christ to minister to this mission.
As for the statistic, it still stands that God is going to use whatever He can to reach those untouched by the gospel. Also, for me or any other missionary, the amount of time spent in direct evangelism does not communicate accurately the effect of our work (unless we are complete sociopaths using this as an opportunity to vacation, but even then, who knows; God works in mysterious ways). Bottom line: there is no difference between doing ministry and following Jesus (being a Christian). We as Christians do not live separate lives where we do ministry part of the time and other stuff another part of the time; everything we say or do, everything we are, is a witness of the love of Christ. Whether we are giving a Bible study to an unbeliever, buying groceries from a Buddhist, or sharing a message with our brothers and sisters in the faith, it is all a part of God’s mission on Earth.
Also, I have come to realize that we cannot be sure of the immediate effect of our work until we reach eternity. From the moment I awake to the moment I lay my head to rest God is making efficacious His work, as long as my focus and efforts are committed to its progress. Yet even then, though my foot may slip and I may lose sight of the goal, God is not inadequate in His work; though I may falter, His work will persist through me and in spite of me; or, as a wise king once said, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Pr 19:21).
Dear reader, there is something significant I hope you have picked up on relating to the “unbidden questions” provoked by the fear-inspiring and self-centering statistic (hint hint). The invading questions are all focused on me and show a lack of trust in God. In recounting all the various ministry related aspects I am actively involved in I realized not only that I need not ask so many questions because God will accomplish His will with or without me, but also that I was falling subject to self-centeredness rather than other-centeredness. If my focus in this mission is about what I am not doing, then the mission becomes about me and not about God and His purposes.
It is important to exercise integrity and do some self-reflection, but if questions arise out of fear or a need to self-justify, they are not worth my time. However, if the questions are pure convictions of the Holy Spirit opening my eyes to see my need to surrender all to Jesus, or make some practical change according to His will and by His power, then it is best to listen and be open to His working in me. No matter what area of God’s work we find ourselves in there is a constant need to be reminded to stay fully surrendered to Him, pursuing His plans and desires above our own, and asking for help to stay attentive and trust Him fully in each moment of every day while we give our utmost for His highest.
Still always remember, God does not ask of our ability, but of our availability. If you ever feel as though you aren’t doing enough for God, you’re missing the point. It is God who desires to work in and through you to accomplish His work (see Phil 2:13). Do not be discouraged about the amount of work you are doing; the real danger lies in becoming so focused on the WORK that one forgets the GOD of the work; our job is to keep our priorities straight (1. God 2. others 3. myself) remaining faithful and fully surrendered to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. This is what the statistic fails to communicate.