Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A mission report

I’m back! Got in late last night, straight to bed, and straight to work this morning. And now combating jet-lag, especially since while I could take it easy today, tomorrow is a pretty full day. No falling asleep in Bible study tomorrow night!

My 2 weeks away definitely counts as one of my highlights of the year. Possibly the highlight of the year. I was pretty apprehensive beforehand, but I’m now so glad I went. Can’t give you complete details unfortunately, as we do have long-term mission partners out there and so I shouldn’t do anything that would compromise their position, however slight.

We usually started the day with training sessions. The first was more biblically-oriented, as we thought about one key aspect of the Bible’s story (eg. creation, cross, resurrection) and how we might share the gospel in a cross-cultural context. The second session concentrated more on the culture of this particular country and some the particular challenges. We usually ended the day, just before dinner, with a devotion from Philippians – I led one of them – and prayer.

We also got, over the course of the 2 weeks, to meet both with believers and non-believers. It was a great experience, and often surprising, too! (People are very open in this country). For instance, I ended up chatting about George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd with one believer, which was a topic of conversation I can safely say I wasn’t expecting. Or in another chat with an unbeliever, I was rather taken aback by one of her objections, which was basically premised on a feminist reading of the Bible (isn’t it just a partriarchal tool designed to suppress women etc. etc.?). Now I might expect such an objection from an Oxbridge student, but certainly not from someone in this country! It was also good to be able to actually do an impromptu study on the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17ff) with another seeker. And it was really interesting to experience church in another culture, which is not quite like the models we’re more used to.

I think one of the things I also appreciated was seeing how much we have in common with other believers in other contexts. Contextualization is a word we often bandy about, and that’s not a bad thing. I work with international students, and I often get frustrated in trying to work out, and in getting people to see, that you can’t do things the exact same way with them as you do with local British students! But we mustn’t push this too far. In many respects, wherever you are, the challenges and issues are the same.

I also really appreciated just watching our mission partners and what they do day-to-day. You get a much better sense of how to pray for them, what are the issues they face, and so on. It was great to have some good chats with them. I especially enjoyed having dinner with one of them (whom I already knew previously) and getting a bit of one-to-one time in which I was on the receiving end of "ministry", as it were! He had some really good advice as I try to think through what I might be doing for the next 3 years or so.

I loved my team too. I have to say, I suspect it’s unusual to have a team in which the dynamics work out so well. That was definitely an answer to prayer.

So I’ve painted a very rosy picture so far, but as always, that isn’t quite the full picture. I did have some difficult moments. I anticipated the language barrier to be a problem when I came, and there was one day in particular where I had to remind myself that "I’m justified by faith, not by linguistic ability". There were certainly times where I felt like I had been pretty rubbish at serving others and not myself. Nonetheless, it was worth it. At the end of the trip, we did a short questionnaire designed to help us reflect on our experience. And one of the things this trip reminded me was that God is the same God no matter where we are, and Christ is what we need no matter who we are. This trip also helped sharpen my focus. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am anti anti-intellectualism, and that I am convinced good theology is essential to our spiritual health. I’m still convinced. But there is a kind of danger, especially for those of us who often read the many Christian and biblioblogs out there, that we end up in some rather pointless academic debates or stuff that frankly, people don’t care about!

Thanks again for your prayers, and it’s definitely worth thinking about going on a short-terms mission trip if you have the chance!

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