“I’m a missionary,” said the pastor I’d just met.
“Which country?” I asked
“How long have you been a missionary to Russia?”
“About seven years.”
“Where do you live in Russia?”
“I don’t live in Russia! I live in Colorado,” said the man impatiently as if I was supposed to know better than to ask such a stupid question, and then continued,
“Twice a year I travel to Russia and teach for a week.”
“Do you speak any Russians?”
Another stupid question.
“Not really! I know a few basic words, but when it comes to teaching, I don’t need to know Russian. I have a good translator.”
This was not my first encounter with people like the above pastor. A few years ago, when I was the Middle East regional coordinator for a missions organization, I’d met several of those missionary-wannabes.
Invariably, some of these guys had ended up on a teaching trip to a third world country (I know the PC term is: “two third world country”!) and were blown away by how well his/her teaching was received; hundreds had come to hear the message and as a result many were saved, scores of people were healed and delivered.
The difference between the way these natives had reacted to the pastor’s message and his/her church’s reaction was like the difference between the Sun and the Moon—one seemingly responsive and burning with fire and the other unresponsive and cold. As the result, the pastor was convinced that God had called him/her to the mission field.
A majority of us, Iranians, admire Americans for their gullibility. No! Not in an offensive way, but rather marvel at how trusting they are, which often leads them to accept things at face value. In third world nations, churches are always packed when a Westerner shows up to teach. Often, through misunderstanding, or not wanting to disrespect the guest teacher, many people raise their hands or come forward (for the hundredth time) to receive Christ or declare their healings due to the Westerner’s teaching or prayer.
And, to be even more cynical, so often, the above Westerner, justifiably so, is perceived as a cash cow. The local pastor makes sure his church is packed to please the Western pastor in the hope of receiving a well-needed financial support from his/her church. Shoot, I knew one third world pastor who had revolving church signs. Depending on what denomination was visiting his church, the appropriate sign was put up to please the guest speaker.
After having such a great experience, taking everything at face value, the above American pastor who hasn’t spent any length of time in the mission field, or studying missions, is now convinced that God’s called him to be a missionary, which in itself could be a tremendous calling if it was properly acted upon.
A true mission work is incarnational. A genuine missionary is one, who like Jesus, “dwells among” the people he/she desires to reach for the Kingdom. By immersing one’s self in the culture and the language of the respective people, the missionary must learn how to convey the Gospel in a contextual way that his/her audience can understand.
How greatly arrogant for the above pastor and pastors like him to call themselves missionaries! How utterly insulting to the great men and women of God such as William Carey, who lost both his wives in India; Samuel Zwemer who watched his two daughters succumb to death in Bahrain; or CT Stud who lost two of his children in China. These brave missionaries often carried their own coffins to the foreign lands they were called to knowing well that they would die there. For months, they traveled thousands of miles by ship, trains, carriages, camels and foot to reach their destinations and fulfill the Great Commission. They literally tented among the people the Father had called them to, so by becoming like them, they could reach them.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have many friends who travel to foreign lands to bless the believers. Whether it is Nate with his outstanding gifts of encouragement and teaching or Pastor Chris, a great entrepreneur and a businessman, they all travel around the world to bless the church with the gifts God has bestowed upon them; however, these friends don’t call themselves missionaries because they know that it takes more than a two week overseas trip to become a missionary.
After listening to the above wannabe missionary, I told him,
“So, let me understand this. You don’t live in Russia and don’t speak any Russian. You don’t even have the most basic understanding of intercultural ministry–that language is culture and culture is language. But, you’re a missionary to Russia because, thanks to today’s technology, twice a year, you can fly there in 12 hours to teach for a week. Bro, by that definition, I’m a French chef because twice a year, on the Fourth of July and Labor Day, I throw a couple of hotdogs on the barbeque and use Dijon mustard on my buns.”