There and Back Again and There Again and Back Again

I’m going to focus on photos with this blog and less on rambling.  However, for this first post, I find it important to share a few things which God has burdened my heart to share, so please stay with me.  I’ll post photos of Africa at the bottom of the blog.  Not going to do videos just yet.

I’ve been back a few days now from my return visit to the city of Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire.  I was there with JourneyCorps from Oct. 2010 –  Oct. 2011, and returned again this time for a few weeks with my friend and former JourneyCorps compadre, Naomi, and her husband Rob.  In 2011, I spend 9 months living with a host family and attending Koko church, and Naomi lived in a different family and attended the Delafosse church.  While there we formed many deep relationships with Ivoirians which I easily see lasting for the duration of our lives.  And this time it was wonderful to come back, and see the fruit that is bearing from those relationships.  Our time back in Korhogo was a chance to reconnect with everyone and partner with the church there to do some really awesome things. 🙂

There is a saying, “nothing happens in Africa without relationships.”

            Naomi, Rob, and I went to do home stays with our former host families.  We started a worship ministry in a church, assisted a building project at a seminary, and participated in a gospel outreach in a remote village.  They all were fabulous successes, and most exciting of all, there is now a church plant of 31 people in a remote African village where earlier that day there was only 1 believer!  BUT, most of these things would have been both without effect and highly inappropriate to begin with had we not invested into the community there previously.  During our year in JourneyCorps in 2011, we may not have “done” a lot of stuff besides just getting to know people, but that’s ok.  The year was a HUGE success because we got to know people, and those relationships were the keys that unlocked possibilities to come and help out in the ways that we did this time on our return visit.

            Like I said, “Nothing happens in Africa without relationships.”  I really believe that this saying could also be applied to many cultures, and many individuals even within our own task-oriented American culture.  And I am convinced now that this ‘relationship before task’ way of doing this is really the biblical model for missions, and is a lesson that the church in the West desperately needs to be reminded of.  Let’s take a look at Jesus as our example, sorry for not including scripture references, I’m open to rebukes and corrections:

 

How did Jesus do ministry?

Jesus’s task: Glorify God through reconciling man (and all of creation really) to the Father through His own death, burial, and resurrection.

            There it is.  Jesus came with a mission, a single purpose that His whole life worked towards accomplishing.  It was His true north in the crazy world around Him.  But Jesus understood that He couldn’t just come and die and rise and it would all be peachy.  He knew the work that He would need to do to prepare people’s hearts to even be able to comprehend, much less receive, this gracious gift of salvation.  He also had to establish credibility with the people.  This was all done through “incarnational living.  Intimate relationships, day-to-day, the smells and the sights, the joys and the letdowns.  Jesus isn’t just about doing stuff.  He is about loving people, whom He created in His own image.  His task only existed in the first place, because He decided that it was the only way to overcome sin so that He could enter into communion with His creation.  From beginning to end, it’s all about relationships for Jesus, and that should tell us something in the way we live out the gospel as well.

            So this is the lesson I’m bringing home to share with the church here.  We are called to make disciples, not to dig wells, not to build roofs, not to give shots or call shots.  We are called to love people through relating to them, sharing the gospel by living it out as well as by proclaiming it.  If the cross was a means to an end, then certainly so are all of our projects.

So how can we translate this into practice?

1)  Christians, if you are going somewhere to serve, go with the mentality that you aren’t actually going there to serve.  You are going there to relate to the people.  Your service is just something you are doing to make the relating easier.  People respond to love more than handouts.  So serve them in love, seeking to know them. It’s how they come to see you as more than just another outsider.  It’s how they let down their defenses and open up the gospel that you are supposedly bringing with you.  It’s the way that they will learn to truly appreciate the work that you have come to do among them to begin with.  Don’t project your idea of their needs on them and forget to listen to what they identify as their own needs.  You aren’t their savior, Christ is.  You might be able to help, but you need to offer that help in the appropriate manner, just as Christ did with us.

            Sure you won’t build deep relationship with every person you come across, some really did just need to be given a blanket in that moment.  But still treat every single one of them as if the God of heaven and earth put aside everything to redeem them.  You never know what could develop.

2)  Churches, wake up!  Stop being so sleepy.  Do more than just giving money to good causes like missionaries or NPOs downtown.  It’s helpful, but it’s a cop-out if that’s the majority of what you do.  No, VBS once a year isn’t enough.  Pray, but don’t let those prayers be hot air.  Get out of your pews and go physically do something about the needs in your own town, city, state, country, and world.  Jesus didn’t win people by inviting them to synagogue.  He was present with them, sharing the load of their burdens.  Don’t let fear hold you back from the amazing opportunities God has waiting for you to be a light.

3)  Time for a Côte d’Ivoire plug.  I’m biased to Côte d’Ivoire, I know.  But consider helping the church there.  The believers in Korhogo, for example, are zealous about Jesus, spreading His gospel, and serving their communities.  But most churches lack the resources to do much of anything big (such as gospel outreaches in villages).  However a lot of the churches in California have the reverse problem.  We have practically all the resources we could ever need, and almost none of the zeal.  Both the church here in CA and the church in Côte d’Ivoire have so much they can learn from each other and so many ways they can support one another.

If you aren’t going to help Côte d’Ivoire, but God is tugging on your heart-strings to support a different area, then learn about the state of the church there and do something about it.  Maybe that church is in your backyard.  Maybe it’s across the ocean.  Maybe both.

In summary, whatever you do, don’t allow the tasks that God has given you to do with your life take priority over the people God has given you to love.  Relationships are always the key to ministry.  It’s how Jesus lived, and it’s how we need to start living as a church.  There are no “missions,” you don’t go on “missions trips” when you think about it.  There is one mission, God’s mission.  Be a part of it wherever God takes you.  Seek to build relationships and watch God change the world, one life at a time.

Ok I promised photos from Africa, so here you go:

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