The head of a missionary family our local congregation is supporting spoke at our church recently, telling us about their work in southeast Asia. They are Christians working in a predominantly Muslim country, and something he said caught my attention. Seeds, he said, grow best where the soil is all busted up. That is what life is like where he and his family are living and working – all busted up.
Their work is, necessarily, discreet. They are helpers, not evangelists. If someone needs help with their garden, or fixing their roof, or repairing a bicycle, learning English, or anything at all, they are there to help. They do not openly evangelize or try to make converts – that would be very dangerous. But in private conversations they do share the gospel, and people do come to believe. Some consider themselves Christian Muslims, maintaining their cultural heritage. The ministry, and its results, aren’t exactly what this missionary family anticipated.
It reminded me of my first ministry, a cooperative effort between several churches to do outreach in the Hispanic community. Most of the people on the committee didn’t understand the Hispanic culture, so when I asked one of the pastors if I could hold an Easter service at that church, I was told I had to guarantee a minimum of 30 people in attendance. The reasoning was I had to have a certain number of people to serve as ushers, to take the collection, to read the Scriptures, etc. and to collect enough of an offering to pay the organist.
I couldn’t help this person understand that many Hispanic congregations are quite small, especially at the beginning, and don’t follow the formal structure of our Anglo worship services. Oftentimes there is no music but the clapping of hands, or a single guitar. The answer was still no, I couldn’t use the church.
I wonder how often we start a new ministry or outreach with preconceived notions of how the results should (or must) look. When the soil is all busted up, the seeds have a better chance to grow, but the crop might look different than we expected. It doesn’t make it wrong.
Jesus certainly sowed seeds in many unexpected places – a Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus, the woman caught in adultery, a Syrophoenecian woman, a couple of centurions. After his death, when his apostles believed only Jews should receive the good news of Jesus, God changed the game plan – first with Paul and then with Peter’s vision of the descending cloth.
While drawing up a mission plan for a new ministry is important, I think it’s just as important to be open to new and unexpected ways that ministry might develop and look. Instead of counting it a failure if things develop differently than we planned, it’s important to evaluate and even appreciate those different developments and prayerfully consider how God is leading us. Our plans are not necessarily God’s plans. And our ways are not necessarily God’s ways. I’m sure that Paul never planned to establish the church in Europe with a group of women at the river in Philippi, but that is what God provided. And despite Jonah’s protests, God cared about the 120,000 people in Nineveh.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
We thank you, Lord, for the opportunities you give us to minister in this world. Help us to remember to look at each other with your eyes, not our own. If we will just follow you, and trust in you, the kingdom of God will grow and prosper. Help us, we pray. Amen.