LESSONS FROM THE FIELD
by Irving Whitt
Earnest seekers came to pray and fast for three, four, five—or even 40-days. A cafeteria on site displayed a huge banner in its entrance which read, "Instructions for Breaking a Fast." Not a sign you would find in many restaurants in the West!
I've changed my mind about the mission field. My traditional orientation has been to think about what Ihave to offer. Now, more often, Ithink about what Ihave to learn. Believers from the majority world1 have so much to teach me. This requires a humble disposition and true fraternal relationships, recognizing that all of our faith j ourneys demand constant fidelity to truth as we guard against the encroachment of corrupting cultures.
Here are five lessons I've learned from brothers and sisters on the mission field. Number one, prayer. If I want to see firsthand the vibrancy of prayer—urgent, intercessory, petitioning prayer—it will usually be somewhere in Asia, Africa or Latin America. I'll never forget walking across the prayer mountain belonging to Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea in 1995. Little hovels (6' x 4' x 4') furnished by simple floor mats, peppered the hillside. You felt as if you were walking on holy ground: voices muffled in intercessory prayer rose in a cacophony of sound floating down the valley. Earnest seekers came to pray and fast for three, four, five—or even 40-days. A cafeteria on site displayed a huge banner in its entrance which read, "Instructions for Breaking a Fast." Not a sign you would find in many restaurants in the West!
Early morning prayers, praise, petition and intercession are hallmarks of the Korean church.We can easily analyze the reasons for this and give all kinds of explanations, but the evidence is clear. Korean Christians understood the need for prayer, took Jesus ' petition seriously, and have witnessed the results.
Africa is no exception. All you need to do is attend one of our colleges or any Pentecostal church there. The centrality and urgency of prayer are experienced as dynamic components of worship. When people are called to corporate prayer, they take it seriously and exhibit utter abandonment, fervent intensity and expeditious urgency.
Second, simplicity necessitates trust . In the West we tend too often to become self-sufficient, to trust our own ingenuity, and to seek God for a second opinion. I remember a young man who worked for me in Kenya being bitten by a very dangerous puff adder. I heard about it the day after it happened. After receiving the venomous bite, he immediately ran to the home of his evangelist brother. His default reaction was to seek prayer, not a doctor. In fact, he accredited his survival to the gracious healing intervention of God - in whom he had explicit trust. Such trust characterizes so many Christians in that part of the world.
Third, discipleship requires dedication, obedience and childlike dependency. When Jesus said to His disciples, "Follow Me," we can only assume what went through their minds - livelihoods they would have to abandon, relationships they would have to sever. I've been humbled often as I have witnessed that simple dependency in the lives of hundreds of believers whom Jesus calls.
George was a middle-aged Giriama evangelist who worked with me on the coast of Kenya. If anyone should have been saddle-sore, it was George. He rode hundreds of miles on his bicycle up and down the coast, visiting believers, holding evangelistic meetings, and encouraging church leaders. He had a large family, 12 children in all. We were able to give him only meagre assistance: approximately $30 a month. By supplementing this income with food from his garden, he was able to scratch out enough fees to educate just a few of his children. In any case, he knew that God had called him and he knew he had to obey.
George represents thousands of men and women across Africa and the rest of the majority world who understand that discipleship is costly. They are willing to pay the price.
Of course, discipleship has another dimension that is not readily identified. I would suggest that it is a hunger for God. In the Beatitudes, Jesus called "blessed" those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness . I wonder whether materialism, education, wealth, self-knowledge and the like lead to self-sufficiency, thus quenching a genuine thirst for spiritual things.
Most majority world people have this one right. They recognize that answers to the big issues of life are found in the spiritual realm. Exhibiting a primary spiritual orientation, though not always “Christian,” they do seek spiritual answers. In Africa I noticed among the people an eagerness to study the Scriptures and a desire to learn. Of course, this raises the genuine question, “How does one kindle a genuine thirst for God?”
The mission field taught me a fifth lesson. Many Christians have learned to identify the idols in their cultures—the syncretistic elements of false religions that have no place with the gospel. In animistic societies in particular, magic charms must be burned, ancestor worship confronted, curses broken, demons delivered, and religious practitioners avoided. Idols of all kinds must be destroyed. We generally associate these activities with people in Asia, Africa or Latin America, but it is not only a majority world issue.
True discipleship must include realistic encounters with God, even in Western culture. The Western church needs to identify false idols of greed, self-sufficiency, material encumbrance, racial superiority and religious self righteousness ... and the list could go on. Maybe the idols are more obvious in Africa, but in the West they are no less real.
We are living in a global village. Our Western technological superiority should not allow us to feel spiritually superior. We can learn lessons we may have forgotten from our brothers and sisters around the world. This is basic discipleship 101!" e
1 “Majority world” is the phrase used today to describe what was once called the Third World since this is where most of the world’s population lives.
is GlobalEd Coordinator International Missions, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada