Reshaping the Land

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“Careful, Osiah, don’t fall in!” I pulled him back as he tottered toward the drop-off.

Half of our dirt driveway had eroded sharply into the pond during the tropical storm the night before. The rainy season had brought many storms, saturating our land with water. New rainfall doesn’t get absorbed as fast and flows freely throughout our property, convening and taking the path of least resistance. We had built a new boundary around our property (partly to keep water from flowing in from the surrounding land), and while it helped some problem areas, the water has found new pathways. Clearly, our pond was where all the water collected as it rose a few more feet overnight. Even some small trees were uprooted by the rains, their roots being insufficient to hold the wall of dirt in place.

During the storm, Stephanie Lewis texted a picture of their bathroom drains back-flowing muddy water that threatened to flood their house. Water flows a few inches deep over their back porch like a rushing river, washing away anything that isn’t tied down. The village children sometimes come and catch tiny fish swimming with the currents over the driveway. Where the fish come from, we are not quite sure. We thought we were safe from floods since we were not near the river, but as it turns out, a river develops when it rains too hard, creating an ongoing problem that we have yet to completely solve. We fill in dirt in one place, only to create new issues in another. This is why people get degrees in engineering geology.

When we first arrived in Cambodia, we jumped in wholeheartedly, offering free medical care, hosting church in our home, and leading Bible studies. We were doing our best to meet people’s needs, provide a comfortable venue for worshiping together, and lead our group of new believers. Those methods seemed like good ideas at the time, but they had unintended consequences. We accidentally created an expectation for free handouts and an entitlement to our financial support. People would attend church with a clear objective of waiting until after the last prayer before cornering us to beg for money, medicine or school sponsorships. We had higher attendance but with less sincere attendees.

Hosting in our home changed the dynamic of the worship. Our friends felt less at ease, afraid to touch our stuff, or would wait for us to take the lead with the service. We preached good sermons and led great Bible studies, but if we were not present, they did not know what to do. We saw our visions of a disciple-making movement eroding like the dirt into the pond. Our efforts were not creating sustainable growth, and we missionaries were feeling burned out, wondering how we could continue with the same methods for years.

Since returning from the AFM retreat a few months ago, we have a refreshed vision for the future. We have already implemented new tactics we learned from leaders and other missionaries utilizing these methods successfully in their projects. We have determined to facilitate our local believers in leading their own group. We want to step away from the foreigner-led culture we have unintentionally been creating.

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