It was mid-morning when I found Mamadou Traoré at his restaurant, a six-foot-square plywood kiosk painted baby blue, its shutters propped open with sticks, bar stools lined up at the window. His eyelids were drooping, and he was falling off his chair. He had worked all night selling omelettes and glasses of sticky-sweet Nescafé. In West Africa during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink all day, nights are good for business.
We hadn’t seen each other in four years.
I sat on a bar stool while he stirred sweetened condensed milk into a glass of coffee for me. He set a square plywood coaster over the mouth to keep out the flies and took out his cellphone to snap a photo. “Now all my customers will believe me when I tell them I have a white friend.” Continue reading The Way We Give→
A dozen children pressed their noses against the screen of our porch staring into the white people’s house. “Look”, one of them said, “They have five kerosene lamps burning!” Yiin–Lampa mɔ́n kwɛŋl! At their homes a family had only one lamp burning. These white foreigners were very wealthy indeed! Our kitchen stove, kerosene refrigerator, library of schoolbooks and our pickup truck set us apart from our neighbors in the village.
The result of our lifestyle also meant that we often had excess material belongings that we wanted to get rid of. Usually, it was when we were preparing to go back to Canada for a furlough that we sorted our stuff and came up with bags or boxes of household goods we wanted to clean up.
We had lived and worked in a particular country for several years and had learned and adjusted to much of the culture. Most days we loved being there, sharing our lives and the gospel. But there were also occasions of difficulty. Some of our new friends seemed to often need financial help along the way. We wanted our friendships to be genuine and free from the complications of lending and borrowing money. So, we decided right from the start of our ministry that we would not give out loans. After all that would put our friends under the burden of debt and paying us back. Continue reading Misunderstandings of Patron/Client Relationships→
Something happened in Mennonite churches in the last one hundred years. As Mennonites embraced global missions, as they moved to cities and planted churches beyond traditional Mennonite communities, they began having identity issues. What is a Mennonite now? Continue reading Who Really Wants to See a Naked Anabaptist?→
Isn’t it wonderful that we live in Canada that’s so in love with Jesus! It makes it so much easier to be a Christ-follower. These days I can basically become like Jesus by drinking Canadian craft beer.
I’ve heard people say this to missionary colleagues of mine or other family members who do a great job of making themselves indispensable to others. Of course, we are called to work with excellence, allowing the Church to benefit from our skills and gifts.
However, there is a danger, definitely on the mission field, where our indispens-ability can subconsciously go to our heads; and we begin to believe that, “Horrors, what would the people do if I need to leave the country?” Alternately, we can find ourselves thinking, “What would I do if I could no longer lean on so-and-so?” be that a spouse, a colleague, a friend or parent.
Although we love to feel needed, like we’re contributing a valuable resource, this is a heavy load to carry. I know many people who can’t move on to the next place that the Lord is calling them to because they feel the hole they will leave is too large for anyone to fill, and, therefore, the people who depend on them will suffer.
My grandfather, never one to mince words, taught me an important lesson shortly before we left for missions. “You see this?” he said, putting his finger into a glass of water, “This is you. Now watch what happens when I take my finger out of the water.” He pulled his finger out and gave me a pointed look. “Do you see any holes?” he asked.
Ouch! Thanks, Grampa, for making me feel like I’ll have no lasting impact. But of course, that wasn’t his point. It was this: we are not indispensable, none of us.
“What would we do without you?” isn’t a phrase I want to hear about myself, not because I don’t want to serve in the best possible capacity that I am gifted to, but because I want to ensure that I follow what Scripture teaches in training up leaders to follow in this path I am walking.
Malagasy culture is power-selfish in many ways. If someone succeeds in something, the culture is not to encourage him, but to pull him back down to the common level. Similarly, church leaders don’t train up younger leaders to take over. In fact, they purposefully withhold information and wisdom in order to keep them at a disadvantage. This is not only unscriptural, it hurts the whole Church.
We are followers of Christ, not of people. The Church is His Bride, not a tool. We would do well to ensure that Christ becomes greater in us as we become less. It is my own goal to ensure that those around me learn with me to say, “What would we do without Christ?” Never, “what would we do without you!”
I will fail, I will leave, I will get weary, and I will die. But Christ is constant and generous with the grace, strength, power, and love each of us needs in every situation. I can’t compete with that, nor do I want to.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference