The Best Way to Share the Gospel On a Mission Trip
A desire to understand the unknown. A wish to have a relationship with someone with whom we have nothing in common. There is always some mystery in relationships, a quest to find what is real and shared. And that can be a very good thing!
And that can be a very bad thing ... for them. *yikes*
Based on the novel The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, Harrison Ford played in a 1986 movie called, of course, The Mosquito Coast. Harrison (Harry, Har – I wonder what he goes by?) portrays a gifted (and slightly fanatical) inventor named Allie Fox who is entirely disenchanted by the system of government in the United States. So he picks up his family and takes them down to the jungles of Honduras along what is known as The Mosquito Coast (because of the Mosquitia Indians, not the bugs). There he hopes to build a wee utopia. BUT! (transitional organ music here) Allie also finds a terrorization of the mind and soul, if you’ll pardon the drama.
This same brilliant man, who was initially being fed up with modern society, puts his ideas into practice and builds…..an ice machine for the nationals of that area. He believes that this will also bring civilisation to the “natives”. Okay, at first it’s a big hit. But guess what? They don’t always want ice. They don’t ever need ice. They’ve been surviving a long time without ice. And it didn’t bring civilisation. It brought chaos. His great problem-solving mission blind-sighted him and eventually drove him from a relationship with his family. Allie’s was a community cost, but more, it was a personal one.
“He used the word savages with affection, as if he liked them a little for it. In his nature was a respect for wildness. He saw it as a personal challenge, something that could be put right with an idea or a machine. He felt he had the answer to most problems, if anyone cared to listen.” -Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast
... and he tried to solve those problems anyway. What a mess.
I was privy to a similar story.
Phil, as a seasoned farmer, watched quietly as his African host family dug a garden around their land. They made heaps of dirt, the length and width of burial mounds. He was dying to tell them how to make rows, how to till the soil and plant the seeds, but he held his tongue. He couldn’t figure why they would do it this way but assumed there had to be a reason. Don, however, wasn’t as patient as Phil. He took up a hoe and smoothed out their mounds, confidently saying “This way will work better for you.” Confused, the family generously let him at it. But the mounds were there again the next morning. This frustrated Don, and he became incensed that his family would be so impolite to their guest. So he asked if he could plant his garden, next to theirs, to show them how it would grow. Then the yearly rains came….and came….and came….the deluge wiped out Don’s garden, but the family had quite a bountiful crop during harvest season, thanks to the “burial mounds” that kept the beds lifted.
Phil was patient and had a better rapport with the family. Don pushed his point of view and so doing, pushed himself away. Both learned valuable lessons. In different ways, they each learned that relationships are more important than whether or not a project is going their way.
"Pay attention! Are you deaf? Open your eyes! Are you blind? You’re my servant, and you’re not looking! You’re my messenger, and you’re not listening! The very people I depended upon, servants of God, blind as a bat—willfully blind! You’ve seen a lot, but looked at nothing. You’ve heard everything, but listened to nothing."
-Isaiah 42:18-25, The Message
Allie Fox didn’t understand this either. He continuously did his own thing while ignoring the opinions and advice of the nationals or other missionaries. He was pretty gung-ho about that ice, but not so much about the people – or his family, for that matter.
Some folks go about mission work the same way, even short-term. It is easy to go on a trip to “get away from it all” or to find something fulfilling because the normality of day-to-day life is tedious and meaningless. And there have been many missionaries who think they have to be a saviour for a week and are so wrapped up in their definition of what mission is to be accomplished that they thwart the real purpose.
Even the National Institute of Health reminds us that "cultural respect is critical to reducing health disparities," plus "when developed and implemented as a framework, cultural respect enables systems, agencies, and groups of professionals to function effectively to understand the needs of groups accessing health information and health care."
Allie Fox, THE ICEMAN, isn’t an excellent example of respect or how to connect with the culture. BUT ...
Can YOU use his character’s bad example to your advantage? Yes, of course!
I pray that you meet Him differently on your trip. Be ye a fictional Allie or real life 'Phil' or 'Don' in the beginning; I pray that when you look at someone whose life and work are very different from yours, you don’t just see a number or a project or a mission. The quickest, easiest way to get your point across is to shut up and listen, right?
See. When waiters did this to their customers, their tips were increased by 70%! Want to know what it is?
It’s repeating your customer’s (or in your case, your mission leaders’) request back to them exactly as they verbalized it. I've mentioned this before for other reasons but I thought I'd track toward it again because ...what this does?
1 – it shows that you listened to what they said
2 – it demonstrates that, whether you agree with it or not, you respect that they have an opinion or belief
3 – it increases the natural inclination of that person to connect with you
So how on earth can you apply this on your trip?
When your mission leader requests something of you, especially if it kinda sounds daunting, repeat back exactly what they said, and see how that increases the outcome of your work AND attitude! And when the people you came to serve don't react the way you expect, smile, love them, and ask the mission leader what you might do to better serve them.
I pray you take the opportunity to ... well, shut up and listen. *wink* Look into someone’s eyes and LISTEN TO THEM because they know the land and people much better than you ever will. I also pray that when you look up from your silence, you come face to face with Jesus Christ. That is where you will find a much 'higher place' to be.
Pardon the over-alliteration, but ...
Do you have any missionary mishaps that were a teachable missionary moment (personal or witnessed) you can share with us below?