July 25, 2011

Invisible Children: 8 Years Later and Emotional Reaction

Invisible Children  is a documentary about what 3 young men from San Diego, CA find when they visit Uganda in 2003.  They come across the effects of a guerrilla war that is going on.  The most moving aspect of the conflict is how it affects the children of the area.  Thousands of them have been abducted and forced into becoming child soldiers.  Those who are not abducted constantly live in fear for their lives.

So when a friend of mine invited me to a showing of the film, I decided to go ahead and finally watch the film.  After watching it, here's what I wrote to him:
I watched Invisible Children recently. It was a really good gripping documentary. Definitely, it has opened eyes to what kinds of things are going on in the world and the hard lives and misfortune of some people. I guess my biggest concern is that because it is so gripping, people tend to give money, without really knowing what the money will do and without knowing if there are perhaps greater needs elsewhere in this world that don't have a wonderful documentary to express the need. I see this a lot in missions. It's a little frustrating honestly. Good intentioned Christians will often give on emotion, without learning a little bit more about the world and what some of the biggest needs in the world are. Whether a ministry thrives or dies often depends on how well they promote their need, rather than on what ministries are doing the greatest things for God and have amazing fruit. It's unfortunate.
Invisible Children seems to still be touching the hearts of people who are in a puddle of tears by the end of the film and ready to write a fat check.  I noticed a wise person comment on the video that there hasn't been any violence in Uganda with the LRA for the last 4 years, but Invisible Children is still taking donations of course, since they've set up some type of relief operations and on the field they still see needs.  Here's a newsflash; THEY WILL ALWAYS SEE NEEDS.  Anyone operating in a poor country is going to see needs.  When good-hearted believers see needs, they generally want to help.  That's great.  It's the way God made us.  We are loving individuals.  However, a challenge I love to give to Christians is that just because we notice a need, it doesn't mean it is the greatest need.  Sometimes we have to sacrifice the good for the best.  This documentary was made 8 years ago and there hasn't been much violence lately, but there are certainly lasting effects.  However, please take the time to learn more about the world and what God is doing through many different non-profit organizations before donating or serving for a particular organization.  In the beginning of the documentary, the guys didn't even know what their story was going to be about.  They seemed to stumble upon it.  I fully believe God can pave the way for chance encounters such as this, but I also can't help to believe that if those 3 guys chose instead to go to Pakistan or Bolivia or Laos, we would have all heard about an amazing documentary that uncovered (insert horrendous phenomena here), and we would all be donating to a cause in that part of the world.

If you want to help out in the world or use your time to serve God somehow, the best thing to do is learn, ask questions, pray, and then take action.  Start by reading Operation World, Let the Nations Be Glad, and Revolution in World Missions, checking out websites like uscwm.org, joshuaproject.net, imb.org, aboutmissions.org, and taking an introductory course on missions.  It's best not to take action on the first amazing documentary you watch.  Use that emotional reaction and guide it into finding your proper place in God's Kingdom.  Then go crazy.

Before I decided to volunteer for Gospel for Asia, I spent 3 months researching missions and analyzing 60+ missions organizations.  I'm very grateful I did that.

July 15, 2011

Seeking Help of National Missionaries

I've been reading through Missions in the Third Millenium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century by Stan Guthrie, so I figured I'd blog about some of my thoughts on his work. Chapter 2 is entitled "Supporting National Workers". Here's a quote from that chapter:

Seeking the help of "nationals" is a growing trend in our world. Facing a shortage of employees with high-tech skills, Silicon Valley exectutives have for some time been lobbying for a loosening of restrictions on their ability to hire foreign professionals. Sometimes businesses, rather than recruiting internationally, simply move their operations to countries where the cost of labor is cheaper....Missionaries are apparently no more immune to globalization's disorienting new economic ground rules than factory workers competing with "cheaper" workers in Mexico. Both missionaries and blue-collar employees are being forced to justify their existence. Not all are succeeding.

This is an incredibly poor comparison. Here's why: First of all, this comparison, if considered as an exact comparison, is coming from the mentality that 'these missionary positions are our jobs. They belong to the Westerners or the North Americans. They have always been our jobs and so you have no right to take them away.'  Who on earth has the right to claim that service to the Lord can belong only to a certain group of people? Do you understand the ridiculous childish entitlement attitude?

Second, it shouldn't be about "seeking the help of the 'nationals'" because they are cheaper. It's not simply a money issue either. Missions work should involve the commissioning and sending of whoever is the right person for the job, whether they are local or foreign. In most cases, if there are passionate native believers desiring to be a missionary to their people, then they should be the first ones to consider for the task. They know the language and culture. It is the Biblical thing to do. Paul trained Timothy to train others. Plus, it only costs around $2,000 a year or so to support a native missionary. And yes, money is a valid point of discussion. If the souls of many are on the line, I would rather send out 40 native missionaries than 1 American missionary family. We need to be responsible with God's money and not be ridiculous about selfish desires and live in a world of missionary nostalgia about the glory days of William Carey or Hudson Taylor.  If you truly have a desire to reach the world for Jesus, you will be willing to accept any position that maximizes your fruit.
I think foreign missionaries do have to justify their existence, but it shouldn't be done from a starting point of 'this is why I am needed on the mission field'. It should be from a starting point of 'these people need to be reached, so looking at the whole church, both local and worldwide, how can these people be reached'. If I am a part of the plan (in addition to prayer) or not is simply an after thought. We can't let our selfish desires get in the way of God's plan. We have to be humble enough to fit into whatever role we are needed; whatever role in which we are most valuable to God's plan. Honestly, for most Westerners (and Koreans too), that role is probably going to be on the side of training, facilitating, supporting, advocating, and raising funds.  If you have a desire to be like the great missionaries of old, reaching out to distant tribes, you might have been born in the wrong generation.  I'm sorry.

July 11, 2011

From Suicide to Salvation

Here's a story that comes from Gospel for Asia:
When the doctor told Vanisha's grandmother what the life-saving operation for her 19-year-old granddaughter would cost, she was shocked and in despair. Never in her life would she be able to come up with that kind of money. And because Vanisha's parents were dead, there was no one to help them.
On the way back from the hospital, the two women stopped at a local store to buy poison. As soon as they reached home, they mixed the deadly powder into their food. Both of them wept bitterly as they were about to eat and commit suicide together.
Just then Gospel for Asia-suported missionary Balaji, who was distributing Gospel tracts in their neighborhood, heard their wailing voices. He and some believers from his church rushed to the house.
"What happened?" he asked the women. Vanisha shared how she had suffered for a long time from terrible stomach pains and that none of the medical practitioners they consulted nor the gods they worshiped were able to cure her. And because they had no money for the operation, she and her grandmother were about to end their lives.
Pastor Balaji was moved with compassion. He shared the Gospel with the two ladies, comforted them from God's Word and prayed that Jesus would heal Vanisha from her affliction.
Then the missionary fasted and prayed for a whole day for Vanisha, and God in His mercy touched the young woman and healed her completely. A checkup at the hospital confirmed that she was now in good health.
Through this miracle, Vanisha and her grandmother understood God's great love for them, and they joyfully received Jesus as their Savior.
Imagine for a moment how tragic the story would have ended if brother Balaji had never come to their village. There are still hundreds of thousands of unreached villages across Asia. The millions of men, women and children who inhabit them have never heard about Jesus, seen a Bible or had a missionary come to bring them the Good News. They live and die without hope--unless someone sends a missionary to them who can tell them about Jesus, the Savior of the world.
There are currently a couple thousand would-be missionaries ready to go and reach these people. They just need some training and financial support. Consider supporting native missionaries to help bring the Good News of Jesus Christ.

July 10, 2011

Is it a Mission Field Country?

Go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS...
OK God, I will go. But where do I go?
Tommy: "Hey Youth Pastor Craig, I think I want to be a missionary, but where do I go? What are the mission field countries?"
Youth Pastor: "Oh Tommy, that's great man! Glad you wanna step it up like that and serve God. You know, the Bible says to 'go and make disciples of all nations' and that 'the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few' so God wants us to reach all nations. There's so many possibilites: Asia, Africa, South America, island nations...wherever they need God...even here in the US, like inner city ministry...man, the whole world is a mission field pretty much."
From my experience, most American Christians would have a similar attitude toward defining a mission field country. Generally, they believe it is those nations elsewhere in the world that aren't traditionally Christian, are poor, and are probably non-white. Some American Christians, who think they are hip to understanding missions today will love to tack on something like 'even our own neighborhood is our mission field'.  In fact a very popular sign to post at the exit of church is a sign that reads, "You are now entering your mission field."  Haha, cute, and a good reminder for people to evangelize, but that kind of thing might result in confusing people about what the mission field really is from a Biblical stand point.
But what is a mission field country? In 30AD when Jesus said to His disciples "Go and make disciples of all nations" and "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." no matter where or what direction the disciples went, they could find a mission field country. Judea was the home base and the rest of the entire world needed to be discipled. So, at that time, Judea was the sole discipled nation and all others needed to be discipled. The mission was to reach all nations. 1 had been reached. 15,999 others were waiting to be reached. Today, the mission still stands. We have to reach all nations. However, since we are nearing the end of the mission, the score is more like 10,000 reached and 6,000 unreached.
This should change our thinking of what a mission field country is. I would argue that the Great Commission is the greatest commandment from the Bible that requires extra-Biblical information. In order to make disciples of all nations, we have to first figure out what nations have already been discipled, so we can focus on those nations that aren't yet discipled. The Bible can't tell us this information. The Bible was the same yesterday as it is today. It doesn't change. However, the status of our mission changes all the time. The objective of the mission is the same, but the information needed to complete the mission constantly changes.
Many countries that were 'mission field countries' 60 years ago are no longer 'misson field countries'. Unfortunately, here in the US and much of the Western world, our opinions of mission field countries hasn't changed much. Our attitudes towards missions often continue in the same pattern in which tradition has taught us. It's those poor, non-Christian lands in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.
Here's a quiz for you:
Is Kenya a mission field country? Nope, it's the most evangelical country in the world with evangelical believers making up almost half the population.
Is Jamaica a mission field country? Jamaica has more churches per city block than any other country in the world and they have a sizeable evangelical community, so no.
China? They have about 120 million evangelical believers and they send more missionaries than the United States of America. They are doing a great job reaching their own people. I would say China is not a mission field for foreign missionaries. However, they still have the 3rd most unreached people groups in the world, so it is very much still a mission field from God's perspective.
India? Perhaps the most interesting scenario in missions; they have tens of millions of evangelical believers. They have over 200 indigenous mission agencies sending out 83,000 missionaries to reach their own people, and for good reason, because India alone is home to 1/3 of all unreached people groups in the world (about 2,200). Is it a mission field? Emphatic “YES” for native missionaries, but if outsiders want to get involved in missions there, they will be the biggest help if they consult with some of those 200 indigenous agencies to see what is needed.
USA? It could be, if you focus on the right people. Of the 236 countries in the world, USA is 16th on the list of countries with the most unreached people groups. We are a country of immigrants and still are! There are 63 unreached people groups living in the United States. http://www.joshuaproject.net/countries.php?rog3=US They are mostly immigrants, refugees, international students, and international businessmen. If you live in a city in the US, try getting to know these people and welcome them. Among the general population though, USA is not a mission field country.