My People, My Country, Myself
Our world is constantly changing, and field workers in ‘creative access’ countries have to be flexible and innovative to find ways to stay on the field. Stacey* has been with Pioneers for several years and has been involved in a variety of ministries, but her calling has remained the same: sharing the love of Jesus with the people of Asia. We recently asked Stacey to share with us about life in her country, and some of her highlights and lowlights of serving there.
MY PEOPLE, MY COUNTRY
The people in my country welcome you in such an honest raw way. Not just a polite, “Hello how are you”, but they make you feel truly welcomed – like a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. They are so happy to see you and they are delighted to spend time with you. The amusing thing is that many of the other cultural norms are so different, loud, and sometimes seemingly unsafe that it causes a foreigner to want to run away. Turns out that friend who has been dying to see you also has smelly armpits, a visible bogie hanging out of his nose and sits way too close! Yet, once you let go of your own cultural norms and start to see the world from their perspective you realise that the offensive smelly one with the bogie hanging out isn’t them but you! It is cringe-worthy to think of how I unwittingly broke their cultural norms and ideas of politeness yet despite this they chose to embrace me anyway!
I love so many things about this Asian culture: the food, the history, the depth and eccentric nature of life, but most of all what has touched my heart is the community way of life. One Sunday after church we went home to my pastor’s house. There were several of us there. We played Uno, joked and laughed together, ate together and then all napped ….. together. It felt so normal, but then as I was lying down trying to sleep the thought came to mind that this would never happen back home. In that moment I was lying in the same bed with the pastor’s wife, the pastor, his kids and another person from church, with everyone else sprawled around the floor in close proximity. That would never happen back home – it would be too weird – cross too many boundaries. But here those boundaries don’t exist. The strong community values have stopped any individualist notions like personal space (or private bedrooms!) from becoming a concept or desire.
One challenge of ministry, though, is that lack of mature leadership in some of the churches has meant that there are some fundamental issues. This is especially true in the villages. Some of the local pastors were telling the ladies who work with us that since they were working for a business whose leaders were Christian they also needed to change their beliefs and be baptised, even though they weren’t yet believers. This was not the message that we want to communicate to our ladies or the community. When we tried to address this issue with the pastor we could not get on the same page. There have been so many other things done and said by this local church that we don’t feel comfortable associating with them anymore. We seek to work alongside the local church as much as possible, but this has proven to be rather difficult, and we have found ourselves having to distance ourselves from some of them.
However in the city it has been a bit easier. I work with national partners from amazing church communities. I wouldn’t be able to do this work if it was not joining in on what they have already been doing.
The lowpoint of life here has been seeing the persecution of my brothers and sisters and feeling helpless. It can be hard to believe that we have the victory when you are losing the battle. Cruel injustice can roar against those seeking to see His Kingdom established, the enemy doesn’t fight fair and even goes for blows against vulnerable children. It can be a battle to keep the eternal perspective in mind. But the highpoint for me has been seeing the reality of what I have hoped for. I have longed to see the kingdom of God come into and transform vulnerable communities. I never dreamt that I would be able to see this happen, yet before God called me to be a part of this it was something he was already doing. I’ve been able to visit communities that have come to know Jesus in the unlikeliest of places, even in the midst of Asia’s biggest red light district.
And what about ‘me time’? Going outside can be an exhausting experience, with the sweltering heat and lots of noise. When I need some down time, it involves me alone in my room with some music or Netflix, and lots icy cold drinks. Sometimes I go out and find a café but mostly the idea of travelling out in the very hot and sweaty weather is too exhausting, so I keep indoors. Where I live is very conservative – I can’t wear sleeveless tops or expose my legs – even showing my ankles would be a bit risqué! So if I have some down time I like to stay indoors and chill, and with curtains pulled, wear those banned items of clothing (shorts and a tank top). Being able to do this makes me ridiculously happy!
To read more about the ups and downs of life as a Pioneers field worker, have a look at the latest edition of Reach Magazine online. Or if you’d like a print copy, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Name changed for security
South Asia: A Melting Pot of Religion
BY ALFIE, A PIONEERS UK WORKER IN SOUTH ASIA
Bells. Today, like most days, our day starts with the sound of bells.
This is not the sound of our alarm clock or our doorbell but of the puja** bells ringing in worship to the Hindu gods. As we step out of our flat, we see the now familiar sight of red and yellow paste mixed with a red flower carefully placed at each entrance to the house. We pass the remnants of the incense burnt earlier this morning in the potted plant by the gate.
Puja. Our landlord’s daughter-in-law has been busy, as she is every morning, ensuring she fulfils her duty of offering puja to the gods on behalf of the household. She carries the burden of the spiritual wellbeing of the family; if something bad befalls them, she simply must not have worshipped enough.
This mindset also pervades the Christians here. One morning a Christian driver let his children sleep instead of waking them in the early hours to pray with him before he set off. Only he and his wife prayed. That day, he was involved in a collision when a motorcyclist made a poor decision and cut in front of his car. The motorcyclist was injured but received no lasting damage. The Christian driver wonders whether the accident would have occurred if he had woken his children to join him and his wife for morning prayers.
Walking through our small town it is impossible to forget that we live in a predominantly Hindu area. There are constant reminders surrounding us – the temple at the end of the main road; the man offering worship at the shrine; the Hindu swastikas that decorate so many houses, calling for prosperity and good luck; the red and yellow paste that adorns the homes, the shop fronts, the shrines, the Hindu statues and the faces of the people we pass in the street – a tika on the forehead of the woman selling us fruit and vegetables or an intricate design on the face of the man walking by.
As we head out of town and travel to a village in the foothills of the Himalayas, we leave Hinduism behind and move into an area of Buddhism. Buddhist prayer flags hang from many houses, large flagpoles stand proud within the village. As we admire the stunning views, we can see them fluttering in the wind, offering up prayers on the householders’ behalf. Having been invited into a neighbour’s home and enjoying their generous hospitality, a peculiar object catches our eye – are goats sacrificed on this object by the head of the household, the witch doctor?
Christians, Buddhists, Hindus. Neighbours, colleagues, friends. All appears to be amicable but below the surface, tensions simmer. Legal proceedings when Hindu neighbours complain the church building is too tall or prevent access unless the church purchases more land at an inflated price; anger when a family member converts to Christianity; new Government laws designed to prevent conversion and prevent foreign influence. Persecution takes many forms. All is not harmonious. On Hindu festival days, most Christians remain indoors to avoid any involvement. Integrated yet segregated.
But there is hope. We met a man, a talented artist, creating beautiful, intricate paintings. He once painted mandalas and other Buddhist imagery but when he became a Christian he prayed that God would show him what he could do instead, as painting was all he knew. A few weeks later, a lady commissioned him to paint a Christian alternative – a mandala incorporating a Bible verse. He praised the Lord! God had given him back his art which he now uses to further God’s Kingdom.
BY STEVE, PIONEERS MISSIONARY IN ASIA
As a Gen Xer (just barely!), it has been my privilege to lead several amazing Millennials over the last several years in both short and long-term ministry. There is little doubt that there is a significant generation gap between those of us born in the late 70’s and those who are text-book Millennials. It was my first year of university, sitting in a “computer lab,” when a message popped up on my screen from someone across the room. Shocked, I looked frantically around for the sorcerer who conjured up such witchcraft! Electronic communication was just on the cusp, and I had barely missed being culturally shaped by it. What a different reality Millennials have grown up in!
God made all people, “and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” (Acts 17:26) God has graced each generation with unique contributions to gospel work at their appointed time in history. While we must recognise and value the way that God has shaped the next generation to impact Kingdom work, each generation must also be aware of the inherent liabilities that sometimes accompany their strengths.
As I consider the contributions that Millennials have made to gospel ministry in my own mission context, there are three clear strengths—among many—that rise to the surface.
- Millennials can effectively minister to Millennials.
Most young people in the world are fully “wired.” This means that a “wired” Western Millennial and a “wired” Asian Millennial actually have significant cultural common ground. They can easily “connect” with each other through texting. In fact, this is often the preferred way of communicating. For non-Millennials, it is difficult for us to feel that we have connected without real face-to-face time. However, Millennials can naturally interact cross-culturally with other Millennials through the medium of technology. In addition, even in a cross-cultural context they share similar values and can understand how the gospel impacts their peers in ways that Gen Xers simply do not see.
The potential weakness Milllennials need to be aware of is the inherent need in gospel ministry for “in person” gospel communication. Evangelism by texting is awesome, but the unreached need to hear the gospel in person from redeemed image bearers.
- Millennials catalyse authentic community on our teams.
The desire for authentic relationships is a real gift that Millennials can bring to the field. Many Gen X missionaries can minimise their own need for community and live superficially with other Christians while focusing on the “real” gospel work of missions. Millennials simply do not accept the status quo of flat, shallow team relationships. Adding Millennials to your team can create healthy cultural change on teams as they expect authentic and intentional—i.e. biblical—relationships.
The potential liability with this strength is that Millennials can seek more community than they really need. One of the sacrifices of missions to the unreached is the loss of robust community that one could get back in their home country. This is a cost that Millennials will feel, but it is a sacrifice that will not go unrewarded by our King.
- Millennials are bold and open to varied ministry approaches.
When a clear vision is put in front of Millennials, I have always seen them respond with enthusiasm and boldness. We ask our Millennial teammates to do very difficult things—approach Muslim students and talk to them about Jesus! Although they often acknowledge fear, they are willing to pray, trust God for strength and go do it! This is very encouraging to more pensive Gen Xers. This strong faith is vital if we are going to see the gospel penetrate the unreached. Gospel ministry among the unreached is simply hard work, and Millennials seem to have the faith and boldness to do it!
The danger here for Millennials is that they can be tempted to try too many things for the kingdom. Often they seem to be looking for that “perfect ministry fit.” What can often happen is, Millennials will do amazing ministry for a season, then they will go try another ministry in order to decide what they should do! This can really stunt gospel ministry, especially among Muslims, when the process of sharing the gospel is counted in terms of years not months. The “perfect ministry fit” may be an illusion. What is not an illusion is the commission of Christ to go to the ends of the earth and preach the gospel. If you find yourself doing that, don’t look for a better fit! You are in the center of the revealed will of Christ!
In conclusion, I am so thankful for the influence of Millennials on my own soul, the life of my family, our team, and the work of the gospel in our context. They have been sacrificial servants in the harvest field, and we pray that the LORD of the Harvest will send us many more!
Photo by Ali Yahya.