You Are As Much A Missionary As I AM A French Chef!

“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.”

9 thoughts on “You Are As Much A Missionary As I AM A French Chef!

  1. Thanks Shah! Once again you hit the nail on the head. I travelled 2x a year for 10 years to Central Europe (total 3mo/yr). But it wasn't until I really began to live among the people did/do I really have a voice in this land. This week marks 16 years in Poland & I can say my friends/neighbors treat me like family…soon they will be part of HIS Family.


  2. Denise, thank you! I wrote the post having people like you in mind. I watched what happened to your organization by the presidents who were all a bunch of missionary wannabes. People who honestly believed that the biggest problem in mission was the language barrier. Leaders who thought that with a good translator, any culture should be able to understand the Gospel these men were preaching in English.


  3. Hey my friend! I loved the article- so right on. My heart is still in missions and someday, maybe, God will bring me there. Until then- I get to keep serving where I am, praying for my friends on the field and going to encourage them when I can.


  4. It was fun to read this latest blog of yours as it confirmed what the Lord revealed to me a few years back. I met a man named Nathan from Uganda on MySpace. He wanted to come to America and wanted me to come to Uganda. I went to a looked up what it would cost for him to fly from Uganda to Hawaii or for me to fly to Uganda from Hawaii. The cost came out to $3200 back in 2010 plus spending two days in airplanes and airports.
    I then started to consider what could he do in Hawaii and what could I do in Uganda once we spent all of this money and effort. I doubt any church in Hawaii would allow some unknown skinny black man from Uganda to speak to them and I didn’t see myself contributing much to the people of Uganda so I let it slide. Then Nathan said he was going to do a crusade in Uganda and asked for support. I asked him how much it would cost and he said $1300. So an idea was born and I sent him the $1300. Nathan did a three day crusade in Uganda with many people getting saved, healed and delivered with a cost overrun of $300 for a total cost of $1600. That worked so well that I sent him another $1600 to do another crusade which he did. So for the price of one of us traveling to meet the other Nathan can do two three day crusades in his own country. In return for my sponsorship I asked Nathan to send me a video of each crusade to keep him honest and to use to promote his ministry.
    Now I have all of these orphanages in India and Africa wanting me to visit them and bring a ”team” with me. Instead of that I am setting up a Facebook Page for them following the Compassion International model where sponsors in America can sponsor an orphan child in India or Africa for $38/month for the privilege of knowing and corresponding with that child on Facebook.
    It is a whole lot cheaper and easier of Westerners just send money to ministries in third world countries rather than going there themselves. We do have to have ways of keeping the ministries they support accountable though. With the internet and the power of Facebook this is now possible.


  5. Bless you Shah and thanks for telling it like it is. Are you sure we aren't brothers? I usually agree with you and am on the outs with the powers that be. Guess birds of a feather flock together, as they say. Blessings on you.. Keep doing what your doing – speaking as a prophet to the church.


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