Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Lesson for Missionaries from the Marines

At my grandparents' house in Taylors, South Carolina, my family was watching a special on the History Channel about the war in Iraq. I was captivated by the content of this well done documentary; but I was not expecting to learn a valuable lesson about missions.

One part of the documentary focused on a certain Marine unit's battle plan in a particularly volatile and violent part of Baghdad. Because this unit had suffered many casualties from attacks by Al Qaeda insurgents, their commander took the following approach: patrol the assigned area for the minimum amount of time required, and then retire to the Forward Operations Base (FOB)- a secure station of operation. The area remained one of the worst areas in Baghdad for the duration of the time that this commander was in charge. Additionally, the Iraqi nationals, whose loyalty the U.S. was desperately trying to win, were not impressed by this "compound mentality." Eventually, he was replaced.

The new commander took a completely different, and somewhat radical, approach. He and the men in his unit began living amongst the people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They only entered their FOB when new supplies were needed. They lived in a house in one of the common neighborhoods in that part of the city. Eventually, the Iraqi nationals grew to accept their presence, and even accept them as friends. This would eventually lead to Iraqi cooperation in defeating Al Qaeda in that particular part of Baghdad.

So what does this have to do with missions? I am reminded of what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 1:5: " ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake." Paul was speaking to the Thessalonian Christians whom he had personally led to Christ; and basically he was telling them, "You all knew the kind of men we were. You knew we cared about you. You know we were there with pure motives." How could those Thessalonian Christians know what manner of men Paul and Timothy were? The answer is that Paul and Timothy spent time with them. And I don't mean an hour a week at church; I mean they probably spent hours every day with them, teaching them both in word and by example. Paul and Timothy took the approach of that second Marine commander.

I wonder how many missionaries have the mentality of that first Marine commander. I wonder if there are missionaries who refuse to get out of their comfort zones. I wonder if there are missionaries who don't learn the language. I wonder if there are missionaries who say, "It's just too dangerous", or, "It just can't be done here." (I am not discrediting the fact that some fields are harder than others; I am saying that a field's difficulty should not cause us to retreat.) I wonder if there are missionaries who refuse to learn the culture of their field of service. If these missionaries exist, it is no wonder the people they claim to be reaching are still unreached.

By God's grace, I want to approach our ministry in Cambodia like that second Marine commander. I want to approach our ministry in Cambodia the way Paul approached his ministry in Thessalonica. I know there must be a balance in our ministry time and family time. I am already asking God for wisdom to know how to maintain the integrity and sanctity of our home, while at the same time not appearing to be unapproachable. But we must not forget that we are called to be salt and light in this world, and that requires that we be visible, approachable ambassadors for Christ.

Just like the situation that changed for the better in Baghdad after that unit began living amongst the people- to the point that the Iraqi people took part in winning a victory over Al Qaeda- I believe if we as missionaries will adopt that approach for our ministries, the people whom we reach with the Gospel will help us win great spiritual victories in enemy territory. It is interesting to note that without the Iraqis' cooperation, those victories over Al Qaeda would not have been possible. And if we do not disciple the nationals whom we lead to Christ, and train them to be spiritually mature Christians who will help us reach their country with the Gospel, we will not see the victories that we should see.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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