This particular Thursday night last May had been unlike any other night of evangelism our ministry team had led. Our “Coffee With God” outreach time of discussing a short Bible study in a one-on-one setting while sharing coffee together had gotten a little out of control. Normally we had a slow, but steady flow of people that allowed us to spend time with most of our participants and engage in the Bible study and any other discussions they might be interested in starting.
This Thursday night we experienced a tsunami-like flood of people who quickly and almost simultaneously surrounded our tiny table hoping to get a small cup of Nescafé Ricoffy (a hot drink blend of coffee and chicory that is popular in the South African coloured* community) mixed together with at least three heaping scoops of sugar. Additionally, unlike most of our previous weekly outings, the majority of the people that came that evening seemed to be only interested in the coffee portion of our coffee with God time, quickly exiting the area with their sugary, caffeinated drink in hand.
The mess of an evening was completed by the fact that two people who were in line for (what was supposed to be) a Bible study and coffee got into a fight leading to one of the men pulling a knife on the other. During this time, Denver, one of our ministry team members, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was accidentally slapped in the face knocking his glasses to the ground, but yet unfazed – Denver is a fit guy and a champ after all. As things seemed to heat up I began walking my 6’5” 220 pound frame over to the two men with the goal of helping them peacefully resolve their issue. Initially I hoped my size and peaceful intervention might dissuade them from getting further into their argument. Really, though, I prayed as I walked because I was a bit unsure of how to handle the situation – I am of course a lover not a fighter. Fortunately, before I could even get halfway to them the two men ended their argument in a stalemate with each walking in the opposite direction down the road. This was the disaster that was our evangelism evening, or so we had thought.
That same evening we happened to have a professional photographer join us. He was taking pictures for an organization who partnered with Trinity Church. The photographer happened to be away taking neighborhood photos when the initial flood of people arrived and the disagreement arose, but was present during most of the remaining part of the activities.
About a month later we received some of the photos he took. The scene that he captured shed a different light on what had happened that night. Although many people rejected the “seeds” we had offered, for many others what had happened was engagement. A momentary, but meaningful engagement with their lives and with the Gospel.
Amidst the fray – and there was a whole lot of “fray-ing” going on – something special was going on as a number of individuals desired for more. They spent time talking with Nimo, Denver, Kaycee, Basil, Yolanda, and me. They asked questions, they discussed that night’s portion of Mark’s gospel we were offering, they interacted with the night’s real purpose behind the activity. They were not coerced or forced into talking, but craved something more than an overly sweet cup of coffee could provide. A number of them have continued to search and have had later conversations with some having joined us in our Sunday morning services.
These are the true dynamics of ministry at Trinity Church, a small congregation sitting in the heart of a neighborhood called Beacon Valley, an area with high poverty and even higher gang activity and drug use. A world-surprising church that itself sits within the valley all the while standing tall as a beacon of Gospel-sharing light amidst the numerous offerings of prosperity gospels and new apostle churches.
A church where even in a small congregation, the diversity spreads large with members being made up of coloured, Xhosa, British-descent, and Afrikaner South Africans; Zimbabweans, Dutch; Australians; and Americans. This diversity bringing in many different cultural backgrounds, outlooks, and histories yet everyone coming together in unity as a family of Christ. A church that seeks justice amidst the poverty where some members offer a weekly meal for the children whose parents have little. A church that opened a much-needed student- sponsored primary school (elementary school in the U.S.) in order to provide a quality education for many of the children in the neighborhood. A church that takes time to share the freeing Good News of Jesus with the alcoholic couple (we met one evening), the many drug users addicted to tik (meth in the U.S.), the gang members, and even the gang leader who happened to stop by to grab a cup of coffee and then stay for a bit to hear the Bible study we were offering. In contrast to its size, the Trinity stands large in faith and its ability to live out the great commission.
This is the church we have had the privilege of partnering with. The church, much like the aforementioned Thursday night, continues to quietly impact many people’s lives while mostly getting overlooked amidst the noise of the surrounding neighborhood and its reputation. A church that lacks ample financial resources and staff and (because of its poverty) is oftentimes looked down upon by wealthier churches in its congregation. A church that nonetheless continues to faithfully follow the Father in offering justice, mercy, and His Good News. A church that received our partnership and assistance all the while equally offering the strongest of witnesses and faith-building moments to us. May the Lord continue to use Trinity to surprise the world in all that it does and may we continue to see more of these small snapshot-like moments as it does so.
* The term “coloured” is an official designation for one of the five racial categories in South Africa and does not carry with it the racially derogatory association that it does in the United States.
By: Leo Wurschmidt, Serving in Africa
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Protestant missionaries have been working in Thailand for almost 188 years, and yet this nation, known as the most Buddhist country in the world, still has less than 1% evangelical Christian. The remaining Thai population is made up of 93% Buddhists and about 6% Muslim. So why has there been such slow progress in seeing Thais receive the Gospel? I began to think that maybe we missionaries have not been as helpful as we thought we were. After studying how Christian movements in the past have accelerated, I was convinced that reaching the city and seeing churches established was the most effective way to reach a nation.
After serving in a campus ministry organization in Thailand for 14 years, I changed mission organizations in 2005 and joined UWM. During this transition time, I was encouraged by my director to do an informal survey to see what Thai leaders thought about what kind of work missionaries should be doing in Thailand. After so little progress, I thought this would be helpful to see what Thai’s thought about the how ministry was being done and the missionaries’ role. I talked with several leaders, but one Thai leader, who was the president of a Thai seminary, told me something that changed the trajectory of how I approach doing ministry. He said, “in the past missionaries would come to me and ask, ‘Do you have any seminary students you could send me to help me start my church, or my denomination or ministry organization?’ So, we would send Thais to the help the missionary accomplish their vision.” He said, “this was okay in the past, but now we have Thai leaders who have a vision and are equipped to start churches and ministries on their own. Now, we need the missionaries to come alongside us Thais, to help us accomplish the vision God has given us for our nation.”
At that point, the organization that I was working with had started two very weak churches, one in Bangkok and the other in the Northeast of Thailand. Not only was it propped up financially by us missionaries, there were too many missionaries in both churches and this inhibited the Thais ability to step up and lead. So when this Thai leader said this, it made sense, and I’ve never gone back to trying to get Thais to help me accomplish my vision. It’s their nation, and they know their people better than me. Therefore, they are more likely to see Thai people come to Christ. At that point the Thai leader invited me into what was called, the Thailand National Plan. This was a plan to see churches started all over the nation.
Over the past 11 years, I’ve been able to come alongside Thai leaders on the local, regional and national level to help them accomplish their vision to reach their nation. This has been much more fruitful and rewarding in seeing churches started. Locally, I am partnering with Thai business leaders to establish a church, and just this month we moved into a new facility that was not your traditional way of building a facility. The business leaders partnered with another businessman who has soccer sport complexes throughout the city, so when he was planning to start a new business in our area of the city, we invested in the business and built our facility within the sport complex. A creative and more economical way of getting a more permanent facility. The thing about joining with a national to help them accomplish their vision of planting a church is that, if I have to leave at anytime, the ministry will continue because it was the Thais vision from the beginning. I see missionaries struggling to turn over the churches they’ve planned or the ministries they have started, and many times the ministry dies because it was never owned by the Thais.
Regionally, our team has come alongside churches and organizations to provide discipleship and leadership training. Offering this kind of training to many churches has been exciting and the local pastors welcome and appreciate the opportunity to partner with us. On the national level, as God opened the door for me to serve through the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand and on a national planning committee thinking and planning for strategic initiatives on the national level. Over the past 11 years, I have been able to serve denominational leaders and to bring resources, training and ideas to the table help enhance and expand the vision and plans of national leaders working together to reach the entire nation.
One recent example of working with Thai church planters is that I have been able to join with a church planter training team who trained over 250 pastors and leaders in four regions throughout the nations. These pastors set a goal to start 150 new churches over the following year. Last year when we followed up on these pastors 134 churches had been started. Through helping the Thais accomplish their vision God has done more than I expected or imagined.
By: Gregg Nicholson, Serving in Thailand
Natán grew up in a home that was filled with unhappy moments. Before he entered his teens he knew what his plans were. As soon as possible he would leave home, join the Sendero Luminoso (the terrorist group), return to his village and kill those who were causing great problems in his family. A young 12 year old boy had his plan, but God also had HIS plan.
Natán ran away from home to the big city of Arequipa. He stayed with extended family who invited him to a youth group at a local church where his uncle was the pastor. That night Natán recognized God had a different plan for his life.
Even though he had grown up in church, Natán realized he needed to repent of his sins, receive God´s grace and forgiveness and enter into a relationship with Christ. God´s plan began unfolding from that time onward.
A short time later he began attending a rural Bible Institute in Chiguata, Arequipa, Peru. He was being discipled, learning about ministry and discerning God´s plan for his life.
After graduating from the Bible school God directed Natán to attend the biblical seminary in Lima to prepare to be a pastor. While studying there he began a relationship with one of the girls from Chiguata, Patricia, who would later become his wife.
In 2016 Natán accepted a position as a pastor of a church in Lima, Peru. It was his first time to be the main pastor of an entire church. He was asking God for help, direction and maybe someone who could walk alongside him during this time.
An even greater joy was shared as Natán met my husband Nelson and they began a friendship. Soon after we moved to Lima, Natán asked Nelson to work alongside him; to be his mentor and coach as he began discovering what it means to be a pastor of a church.
Natán thought he knew his plans for the future. God stepped in and reshaped those plans.
We thought we knew our plans for our future in Arequipa. God stepped in and reshaped those plans.
We are so thankful for His plans.
By: Vikki Maya, Serving in Peru
Pray for Natán and Patti and for us as we continue to seek God´s plan for our lives. Continue to lift up the country of Peru and for the many others who need HIS story lived out in their lives.Prayer for Peru
United World Mission’s core belief is about developing well trained, spiritually-formed leaders and to strengthen and multiply disciple making churches that proclaim and demonstrate the gospel. Here in Brussels, Belgium a church called The Well is doing just that.
One area that they are concentrating on is mentoring and training new leaders in the church while also making disciples who make disciples who make disciples… These leaders go out into the neighborhoods to reach the lost with the gospel; through prayer, Bible studies and by serving those in need.
In my first six months here, I have seen the body of Christ in this church reach out to those that are lost and serve them in multiple ways. Mainly through the vehicle of Serve the City, which was founded by The Well. Via Serve the City, the members of The Well serve breakfast to refugees two mornings a week as they wait in line for the government office to open so they can try to get asylum. They also serve food to the homeless on the streets, and help feed those in shelters along with repairing and assisting the shelters as needed. This involves working with government agencies that have these social programs and also with Roman Catholic charities as well. Due to this unique situation not only do we get to share Jesus with those that are in need, but also with community volunteers we serve alongside who may not be believers. These relationships take time to build and the process is slow, but already I’ve had some personal conversations with people.
As The Well prays and seeks God’s direction in the life of the church, it is building up and changing communities. When there is a need the social agencies, charities, etc call on Serve the City for help. They have a reputation for genuinely caring for people and assisting when and where needed.
For example, Missionaries of Charity needed additional help feeding the homeless on Tuesday afternoons. This is in my neighborhood. As a member of The Well, through the umbrella of Serve the City, I started volunteering there on a weekly basis. Now it has been opened up to others in the community via STC website. I’m coordinating and teaching the volunteers how to serve there. There has been such a positive response that we are looking to help the charity in other ways such as in the mornings preparing the food to be cooked, cleaning their garden, and more. Sister Monia, who is the head nun there, was asked a question one time by someone if I was a Roman Catholic missionary. She said no but we both love Jesus and we work together for Him. It is amazing to see God work through and use us from different denominations to further the kingdom, along with making new friends who still need Christ’s salvation.
Jesus said we are to go to the ends of the Earth proclaiming His name. Here in Brussels where only 1% go to Protestant church and 5% go to Roman Catholic church there is much work to be done. I am grateful, honored, and humbled that God would call me to a place where there are so many lost and yet new relationships being made that will lead to their salvation.
By: Jen Rowland, Serving in Belgium
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In October 2012 while on a sabbatical in France my husband, José, and I attended a Strengthen Your Interpersonal Skills (SYIS) workshop. At that time we were taking a Counseling class at Institut Biblique de Nogent to be better equipped to meet the great need for Practical Counseling amongst national leaders in French speaking West Africa. We were excited to be part of this workshop that we had heard so much about as being a wonderful tool to help with topics such as managing stress, maintaining margins, listening well, help others solve their problems, etc….
At the end of that workshop we went to the Facilitators and said, “We want this workshop to be held in Senegal, our national leaders are in need of this type of training”. We were challenged to take the Facilitators Training and then introduce the program in our context of ministry.
God is so gracious to us! 3 years later, guess what!?! A training for SYIS Facilitators was organized for the first time in French in Senegal!!! Wow! God really wanted us to see our dream come true. Shortly after taking that training we discovered that a friend of ours, who is the leader of New Tribes Mission (Integral Mission) in Senegal was an experienced English Facilitator for SYIS. We invited him to join us and organize the Workshop in French. He accepted the challenge to do it in French with us. After some months of preparation our dream came true in Dakar this past February.
The need is so great that we ended up having a waiting list since our target number of 24 leaders was quickly reached.
Here are a few of the testimonies:
“I have been to many seminars but it is the first time to be part of one that is so dynamic and practical.” . I was very touched by the role plays.” (National Pastor from Dakar)
“My wife and I were transformed by the workshop. In our family now, our communication has improved tremendously, so whenever we start with our old way of communicating, we stop and either with my spouse or with the children we decide to start over the proper way just like we learned during the workshop.” (African missionaries)
“When can we get a training for Facilitators, we need to teach this to our leaders.” (World Vision Leader)
“I didn’t want to come to this workshop and I was thinking another seminar again!, but my supervisor wanted me to,so I came, But I can tell you, I am so glad I did, I learn so many new things that was needed in my life and in my leadership. I am grateful!” (National Pastor fromThies)
By: France-Lise Oliveria, Serving in Senegal
France-Lise and José: Regional Leaders for West Africa
Colombia is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and the Colombian evangelical church is overwhelmingly ex-Catholic. According to the Pew Research Center’s report “Religion in Latin America,” 74% of Colombian Protestants were raised Catholic, the highest of any country in the region.
So, it’s unsurprising that the strategies that most churches use to reach their communities are primarily geared toward two groups with different approaches to faith: religious Catholics and nominal Catholics. Ask a typical Colombian evangelical how to have a productive conversation with an atheist, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a Mormon, and you’re likely to get blank stares.
Two and a half years ago I was teaching the class “Religious Systems” for the first time at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia, a class that seeks to equip students to understand other religions, sects, and worldviews on their own terms and then to construct theological and pastoral responses from an evangelical perspective. I told students we would make two field trips as a class to learn about other faiths. The first was to a Tibetan Buddhist center here in Medellín.
I recall my students’ palpable shock as the Buddhist sharing with us talked about reincarnation as if it were the most logical thing in the world—and this from a real Colombian, not a person from Asia! After restlessly shifting around for nearly two hours on cushions they normally used for meditation, we wrapped up our time of Q&A with a number of good questions from students, mixed in with the occasional insensitive one that made me embarrassed to be the professor. But the trip worked. Though frightened at first by the visit, students left feeling confronted over their need to learn how to share their faith with people who thought so differently, and encouraged that it was truly possible to build relationships with them.
This semester I have taught the course again, both residentially and online. A few weeks ago, I got an urgent email from my student Roman asking for prayer. “After starting the readings on Mormonism, I went online to request a free copy of the Book of Mormon, but it came with two missionaries included!” Since that first encounter, Roman has continued talking with the Mormon missionaries, seeking to share biblical truth with them and apply what he learned about Mormonism in the online course. He said that one of the missionaries seems more open and seeing the force of what he is sharing, while the other is more closed. Roman told me, “I’m going to keep talking with them until they either stop coming or they convert and accept the gospel.”
Another encouraging moment came a couple of weeks ago, when, after requiring students to have a 30-minute conversation with an atheist, agnostic, or other person who rejects traditional religion, a pastor in my online class shared about a productive conversation that he had with the husband of a woman who had recently begun attending his church. The man is an atheist with an extremely negative view of evangelicals, yet he saw in my student a model of careful thought and humble conviction that have caused him to be more open to establishing relationships with the church and perhaps one day considering the Christian faith.
While I haven’t seen anyone accept the gospel as a direct result of this course, I have been encouraged to see students taking steps of faith to engage with the unknown, and often scary, world of other religions. What they have discovered is that people of other faiths are just as human as us, just as relatable, and just as broken and in need of the gospel. And as Latin America becomes more and more secularized and diverse, I see a glimmer of hope that the evangelical church is waking up to its need for a better defense of the faith—one that doesn’t just work with the nominal Catholic who in theory believes the Bible but doesn’t really understand what it says—but one that responds to the atheists and followers of other religions who reject the Bible and whose worldviews often clash with a Christian view of reality at the deepest levels.
By: Kevin Johnson, Serving in Colombia
I’ve been a part of Kay and Ken’s life for many years now. They were both single when I met them and I was just learning their heart language. Jane became my tutor. In my tutoring classes we talked about all aspects of life. Literally sharing life together as I’m now considered a family member after all these years.
Kay and Ken married a few years ago and now have a baby. They have been blessed to have multiple older people in their lives to mentor and disciple them. They were sent out last year to start a new Sunday group.
Kay has been a part of 2 other discipleship classes, both just 6 weeks long then the leader went on to other people. She said she felt like a “project” with some foreigners and even their own native leaders.
One of the things I do is discipleship. My approach is to spend 2 years with people. Kay and Ken are both great learners. They are currently using the same discipleship materials with their leadership team that I have used. Each person in their leadership team is now mentoring and discipling others in their Sunday group. The discipleship, mentoring, and coaching that I have done with this couple is now being replicated throughout their Sunday group. Great fruit is being produced from this couple.
– Names have been changed for safety
By: Worker Serving in Asia
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When foreigners come to Africa for the first time, they are often surprised that racism exists, when everyone is black! But tribal identities are strong, so it’s not skin color that determines their opinion of other “races,” but ethnicity.
Mali has been spared much of the deadly tribal conflict which exists in other parts of Africa (for reasons which would take an additional blog post to explain!), but we still hear subtle forms of prejudice expressed.
One of these is animosity of the Malinké, with whom UWM has worked since the 1950s, toward the Fulani, with whom my husband, Jim Bowers, has worked for about 20 years. We’ve even heard a Malinké pastor, Pastor Don, make wisecracks from the pulpit toward Fulani visitors in the congregation! It’s all done in a joking manner and thus is considered acceptable. Further, if you challenged those remarks as racist, the reply would be, “They are only racist if they are untrue. But they are true, so they’re not racist!”
Some years ago, we got to know some Fulani refugees from Mauritania, and some of them came to Christ! There were two brothers, one of whom I will call Jamal. They lived north of our city of Kayes, but when Jamal’s son fell deathly ill he had to bring him to the hospital in town. This posed a crisis above and beyond the illness. Being originally from Mauritania, Jamal had no support structure in Kayes. He needed a place to stay. He needed food to eat, for himself but also preferably for his sick son (hospital food is so bad that most families take meals to their patients). He knew the boy needed to be in the hospital but didn’t know what he would do from there.
Somehow Pastor Don heard of his need, and in spite the fact that Jamal was a Fulani, more importantly he was a believer, and so he organized the church ladies to provide meals, and gave him a place to sleep while he awaited his son’s release! (The church happens to be less than a 15-minute walk from the hospital, so that was icing on the cake). We were surprised by the love demonstrated by one who had appeared to us as a bigot, but Jamal (who had never actually heard any of the pastor’s remarks, but knew that typically tribes look out for their own) was even more surprised! If there is a better way to demonstrate to a new believer what it means to belong to the Family of God, I don’t know what it would be!
Jamal and his brother were eventually repatriated to Mauritania. There are no churches where they live, but they returned to their homeland with not only salvation in Christ, but with an experience of the Body of Christ and the surprising love which the Holy Spirit creates between believers.
By: Jennifer Bowers, Serving in Mali
If you would like to donate towards helping to reach the Fulani for Christ please learn more below.Donate Here
One of the luxuries of becoming a teacher straight out of college is that you already have roughly 16 years of “in-school” experience to draw from. There have been countless times in my three years of teaching middle school Bible at the International Christian School of Budapest (ICSB) when my teaching was directly influenced by a previous experience – good or bad – as a student. One of those instances was Valentine’s Day of this year, a day when – fittingly for the holiday – God showed me his love in a surprising way.
I will always remember English class on Valentine’s Day 2008, which was my junior year of high school. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, our teacher decided that she would spend the majority of class telling each student what she loved and appreciated about them. I remember expecting something vague, like “You’re always kind to everyone,” because I preferred to stay in the background, and I didn’t feel like teachers paid all that much attention to me. Then my teacher said,
“Brian, I love that you don’t see people on a surface level… when you see people, you see their souls and their deepest spiritual needs.”
I was shocked, because it was true… and not only had she recognized that, but I had never realized that about myself, nor had I ever stopped to think that it was significant or unique. It was a simple sentence, but it still stands as one of the most important things that anyone has ever said to me. It made me feel noticed and appreciated for who I was as the deepest level, and it motivated me to continue seeing people as souls that needed Christ.
So then, as Valentine’s Day approached this year, I remembered my English teacher’s words and decided to give the same words of personalized love and appreciation to my own middle school students. However, the class that I was teaching that morning was seventh grade. While the majority of our students at ICSB are from American missionary families, seventh grade is composed mostly of Hungarian students, and while most of them speak English fluently and a few of them are Christians, it still makes for a very different and sometimes challenging class dynamic. Nevertheless, after two years of teaching them, I had learned to love and appreciate things about all of them.
Mostly because they are middle school students, it is often difficult to hold their attention in class for more than 15 minutes without changing activities. I went around and spoke into each of my 20 seventh-graders for 35 minutes, and it was silent. Every student was locked in and listening, nodding in agreement as I would talk about their classmates. Students I addressed would listen – some making eye contact and some avoiding it – and reactions ranged from smiles to quiet tears. I was already inwardly praising God for what he was doing through this, when they shocked and blessed me in a way I had not expected. As we finished with 10 minutes until the bell and I began to transition to other things, they protested, “we didn’t get to say anything about you!”
Have you ever felt like the time, commitment, and sheer work you put into your ministry is unrecognized at best and unprofitable at worst? I don’t think I’ve met anyone in ministry who’s managed to avoid this nagging feeling. Granted, God does not promise that we will be appreciated and praised for our work in Him; in fact, we are to often expect the opposite (see Col. 3:23, Eph. 6:5-8, and Gal 1:10)!
As a teacher, I don’t expect to hear daily appreciation from students, but it can be exhausting to pour my heart and soul into them over long stretches where it seems they simply do not care. There are a few students who I can count on to encourage and affirm my teaching, but it often happens that those I fight for the most are also the ones who don’t show appreciation.
Before my seventh-grade students asked to share what they loved and appreciated about me, I wasn’t sure if they had even really considered what I did for them. (At one point towards the end of the fall semester, after I had prayed for reduced stress in teachers and students, one of them had asked, “Mr. Dicks, how could teachers get stressed?”) However, I sat and listened for ten minutes as every student raised their hand and shared something they appreciated about me, as a person and as their teacher. Some personal favorites:
- “I feel like when you teach, you’re not just talking through notes. It feels like you have a message from God that he wants you to give to us.”
- “You talk to us and treat us like individuals, not just like a bunch of the same students.”
- “You are willing to change plans or do extra work to help us learn better.”
And so, on a day when I planned on showing love to my students in an intentional way, they – and likewise, God – surprised me with their love towards me. They shared their words out of their own love, but God used them to love me in His own way, affirming my investment in the ministry he had given to me.
I believe we can all learn two major truths from this.
- Make it a habit to tell others what you love and appreciate about them, especially in regards to the work in which God has called them. Do it in a way that is intentional, personal, and sacrificial.
- Pay attention for ways in which God loves you through the words and actions of others.
He does not promise that we will be loved and appreciated by the world around us, but he does promise that his love will never leave us.
By: Brian Dicks, Serving in Hungary at ICSB
I hate being the newbie.
Newbies make mistakes. And they receive constructive criticism ALL.THE.TIME. to correct those mistakes. They embarrass themselves. They do or say things that make them look foolish, childish and/or insensitive.
And that’s me right now. The Mistake Maker with a capital M. The constructive criticism receiver. The one standing on the outside without the inside information – or rather, with just enough inside information to stand on the inside, but too much of me is outside, so when I open my mouth, everyone knows that I really belong on the outside. With almost a year under our belts here (6 months at language school, and now 5 months at our target location), you’d have thought we’d be past the newbie phase (though I’m sure all of you who’ve been on the field would be LOL’ing right now because you know that length of time spent does not guarantee you’ll never find a foot stuck in your mouth). But here we find ourselves, still making rookie mistakes. Still asking ourselves: will we ever come to a place where we don’t feel foolish in front of those whom we came to love?
So, there we were. In the middle of language class, my husband, our language helper, and myself sitting at our dining table. Our house helper was in the kitchen washing our dishes, our kids were playing together beautifully in their room, and we were innocently learning new words, with nothing but postpositions and proper tenses floating about in our heads. Life was going on its merry way – our visions of sugar plums and new words coupled with the sounds of someone else scrubbing away the dried ketchup on my kids’ dinner plates and my children pretending they were super pups saving the day behind their closed door – it was as if I was in a magical wonderland.
But all y’all who’ve spent any time in a foreign country must know that there is a dumb tax to pay for those who are naive and found off their guard…
As our house helper (HH) was getting ready to leave, we snapped out of our sugar plum dreams and promptly remembered that it was the first of the month. This meant payday for our sweet HH! But there was a problem – we were gone for over half the month. Shoot… Does this mean we pay her for the whole month? Or just half the month? Bah!! Navigating cultural money issues here is a nightmare.
We quickly and directly asked our language helper what he would do, and he promptly indirectly answered “Do as you wish”. So, pressed for time, we made the decision to do what we normally would have done in the States: if someone only worked half their time, they would only get half their pay. So that’s what we did – we gave her half her pay.
She looked down at the money, frowned a bit, and walked out. No words, no goodbye. Just left.
The hubs and I stared at each other awkwardly from across the table, immediately knowing we had made the wrong decision. But it wasn’t just that we had made the wrong decision – we were all too familiar with the feeling of incompetence – it was the frustrated mix of feelings that comes from just not understanding where anyone is coming from. Feelings of injustice – because we Americans believe that you get paid according to how much work you do and anything else is called ‘freeloading’. And then this huge desire to bless the poor, but not sure how that fits in with wanting to be wise with our money – a huge value in this culture – and not wanting to seem like we are the rich Americans throwing money out their windows, giving it out left and right in inappropriate ways. We want to do this right – we want to help without hurting. But how? And in every single instance, it seems so foggy. No black and white answer. Oh, if only there was a guidebook for every single specific problem in this life…
Thankfully, this instance was a little more cut and dry than the others. Apparently, your HH receives a certain salary every month regardless of how many days she actually works. There is a saying here that if you cut the pay of a poor person, you cut off their life. And it totally makes sense – I get it. I just didn’t know. And let’s be real – this woman makes roughly $30/month from us as it is – thirty measly dollars. But we all know that it’s never really about the money as much as it is about matters of the heart.
So, after consulting our more experienced and incredibly wise teammates, we knew what we had to do. We had to give her the remainder of her salary.
The next time we saw her, we made things right. We apologized, and told her that we are still learning, and there are many things we don’t know. She smiled, said it was no problem, and we all went on with our lives, just as if nothing had ever happened.
But something had happened.
And in our silly mistake, we were able to be an example of humility and love to her. Apologizing directly for what we’d done and humbly recognizing the fact that we didn’t know everything – especially coming from a person with “higher” status to a person of “lower” status – it’s just not something that is done in this culture. It speaks volumes.
And not to pat ourselves on the back (because that feels weird and because we didn’t really do anything but mess up), but more or less wanting to put the Lord on display, showing how he can take any situation – any mistake – and make it good. He can use the teeny, tiniest little offering we have, and use it to surprise someone with love. How great is our Father’s love for us that he can even transform our mistakes as opportunities for love? Ultimately, we don’t know what impact our actions had on our HH, but I am excited to see what the Lord is going to do with it. And in a way, I am thankful for the mistake we made. For in that mistake, we had the opportunity to exemplify the humility of our Savior. For a single moment, we were able to get down from our pristine white tower, put ourselves in a lowly position, and make things right again. Humility and reconciliation. All from one silly little mistake.
Maybe being a newbie isn’t so bad after all…? 😉
By: Worker, Serving in Asia
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