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In the summer of 2010, my wife, our two children, and I traveled to the African continent for the first time and spent eleven weeks in the countries of Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. For more than six of those weeks, we lived with a missionary couple, Bob and Pam Brownfield, who had served for fifteen years among the Lomwe people of Malawi. These veteran missionaries were in a time of major transition, both in their family and their ministry. First, they were about to become “empty-nesters” as their youngest son prepared to leave Africa and move to Auburn, Alabama, where he would pursue his college degree. Also, after a long and fruitful ministry in Malawi, the Brownfields had sensed God leading them to relocate east to Mozambique, where they would engage the Lomwe people in that country with the gospel. During our time with Bob and Pam, we traveled back and forth between Malawi and Mozambique as they said their “goodbyes” to the Malawian churches and then explored the people and the area they would serve in the coming years. While these major changes were taking place in their lives, this missionary couple had the Vickerys (first-timers in Africa who brought with them a 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy) tagging along with them everywhere they went… for more than six weeks. More than once I wondered, “What were they thinking when they agreed to have us come out to be with them?”
When I returned from Africa, I would enter my final year in seminary. God had revealed his call on me to pastor a local church in the United States and to lead that church to faithfully pray, give, and go for the spread of his glorious gospel to all nations. With that call in mind and as our month and a half with Bob and Pam Brownfield drew to its end, I asked them a question that had been bouncing around in my head for some time. What I wanted to hear, from a veteran long-term missionary, was this: “What are the benefits to churches sending short-term mission teams?” After carrying us around with them for weeks, I wondered if the answer might be, “I can’t think of any…” But that was not their answer at all.
Why send short-term mission teams? These are the answers from a veteran long-term missionary:
1) God uses short-term trips to expand the worldview of American church members. The worldview of those who go on the trips are obviously expanded as they experience cultures so different from their own and minister the gospel among other people groups. But this worldview expansion also spreads throughout the entire local church as team members come back and report on the work. This increased and direct exposure motivates more faithful praying and sacrificial giving for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.
2) God uses short-term teams to reinforce and supplement the long-term missionary’s teaching. Bob and Pam compared this benefit to that of Sunday School teachers for children in a local church. Parents faithfully teach their children and then, when a Sunday School teacher teaches the same truths, it reinforces the teaching in the children’s lives. In the same way, a long-term missionary labors day in and day out among a people group, and when a short-term team comes and teaches the same truths, it helps to solidify the teaching in the lives of the people. Also, the short-term team may be brought in to teach on topics that the long-term missionary simply has not yet addressed.
3) When a church is committed to sending teams repeatedly to a particular people group and place, it shows the steadfast love of Christ. This investment in that people group communicates a dedicated affection for them. When short-term teams come and work alongside the long-term missionary and simply love the people, the missionary’s reputation among the people is strengthened. The people will say, “Bob and Pam bring people here who love us and teach us. They come back again and again.” This investment strengthens the long-term missionary’s ministry.
4) God uses short-term teams to encourage the long-term missionary. Even if for a short time, the companionship and fellowship that short-term teams bring to the missionary on the field is like rocket fuel for their ministry tank. In this way also, the investment strengthens the long-term missionary’s ministry.
I must admit that when I heard Bob and Pam voice that fourth benefit, I wondered how much of an encouragement I and my family had been to them for those six-plus weeks. But then, they spoke of how our being with them had helped them to navigate that transition time of their “nest” being emptied and their leaving the Malawi churches they loved so dearly. It turns out that having two first-timers in Africa with their two small children running crazily about for those weeks had been less of a burden and more of an encouragement than I thought. I was reminded that God moves his people about in this world for his mission, for his glory, and for the good of his people. We are to simply follow where he leads.
There are likely more benefits to short-term teams, but these are four that were given to me by two veteran long-term missionaries in the summer of 2010.
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One of the biggest challenges to God-centered worship has been and always will be self-centered worship, or put more plainly—worship of self. This was the great sin of Lucifer (Satan) that got him thrown out of the presence of God forever. Biblical worship of God involves fear and reverence for Him leading to prostration—falling on our knees before Him. But what does prostration—a gesture of humility, imply for us in all things? Repeatedly, Scripture teaches that in order for our worship to be genuine we must depend upon, or place our trust in God.
We live in a culture of self-reliance. This philosophy is taught to us in our schools, in the popular media, in the world of business, by many parents, and is championed by what the bible calls “the flesh.” Because this is our natural tendency—reliance or dependence upon God is supernatural. One of the great obstacles to trusting in God occurs in our mind. We know that we live in a world of cause and result. Each action we take has direct results and consequences. Yet as Scripture teaches, God is working simultaneously in every thought and action to ultimately bring about His results (consider Joseph’s life, Genesis 50:20). Although we are very limited in our understanding, abilities, and existence, God is transcendent or infinite in His. Therefore, God alone is ultimately worthy of our trust and dependence.
Although we may know this, the turn from worshiping self to worshiping God is ultimately life-long and can be very challenging. However, I want to share today how God has and is working in me to accomplish this. Notice that I did not say, this is how I learned to worship God, OR here is what I did to get my worship right before God. No—God is the agent that produces this change and it is never of any merit of our own that we learn it.
LEARNING HUMIILITY THROUGH TRIALS
For many of us, when we encounter trials in life our first thoughts are not of James 1:2-4. Instead we wish that things were different and tend to compare our lives to those whose lives seem to be going much better. Only now at 44, am I really learning to take James seriously—that joy can really be our response to trials.
Back in 1996 God called me to attend seminary, and the call was joyfully confirmed through abundant financial assistance. My plans after seminary? To serve full time in church and build a thriving Christ-centered music ministry. However, life can offer some bumps in the road, right? And so I was let go from my first position due to some advice from a church-growth expert. My second go at this dream was incredibly tough as well, but I initiated the departure in obedience to God’s leading. Then it hit me—I was falling into the statistic that everyone talks about—most ministers only last two years in a given church. How could this happen? I thought I had so much promise—my scholarships, grades, and encouragement from others all seemed to say so. . . I thought that God had chosen me for service to him through music and worship ministry. . .
It was then 2004. The next year, as the result of a spiritual gifts and temperament test and much prayer, I sensed that God was calling me to teach. He told me to go back to Southern Seminary and earn my doctorate. Here God would begin teaching me that it was by His merit and hand that ANY “success” would come, not my own. Fast forward—in 2012 after much work, further trials, marriage, and a baby along the way, the D.M.A. program was finished.
TRUSTING GOD WHEN THINGS DON’T MAKE SENSE – WHAT IS GOD DOINGHERE?
So, I began vigorously applying for teaching positions in music at universities across the country. Well by the time 2015 rolled around, I began to REALLY be concerned. These events just didn’t make any sense to me at all. I knew I had followed God to seminary the first and second times. I knew that He must be up to something—something that couldn’t be experienced without these events unfolding the way that they had in my life. I also knew that up to this point I had not really trusted God with the main events of my life. Sure, I had trusted him for my eternal salvation, but death was a long way off, right? How could I trust him now to make a substantial difference in my life where I could see him moving? How could I better experience the transformed life that Christ promises?
BECOMING AWARE OF GOD’S PRESENCE
Then a shift began to happen. I have a family member who is a Christian counselor. I was talking with him on the phone one night and I told him, “I don’t know how to trust in God.” He simply responded, “Ask God to teach you how to trust him.” So I did. The Holy Spirit led me from then on to tell God that I trust him whenever a difficult situation would arise. He also told me, “Shawn, when you do this [and mean it], it frees me to bless you.” I started noticing that there was a direct response from God when I initiated trust. What I mean is that God was meeting me with his provision in some way in each situation when I would express trust. Not only would he equip me with peace—oftentimes there were events (sometimes several) that took place surrounding a given situation that made it very clear that God was at work. So what was I learning? Simply what I mentioned earlier—that God is the only one worthy of our ultimate trust—and I was learning the kind of existence that should be normal for the Christian—experiencing His presence in concrete ways—walking in the Spirit. I was learning to be aware of Him day by day in the fabric of life—not just during corporate worship or time set aside for personal prayer and Scripture reading.
TRUSTING GOD INSTEAD OF ANXIOUSLY STRIVING—PROCESS IS WHAT COUNTS IN THE KINGDOM
Not only do we live in a world of self-reliance, we also live in a world that is very product-oriented. In other words, in the marketplace what matters is not how much homework, footwork, or blood, sweat and tears that you pour into something—results are what really count. The problem with this system is that it literally trains us to think that results are all that matters. In the Christian life, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Proverbs 3: 5 and 6 teach us:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
These verses clearly teach us that it is our dependence upon God that matters—upon what Scripture teaches and what he reveals to us through prayer—and the two never conflict. The principles taught in Scripture always align with what the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts. When we rely upon God in this way, then in our heart we are bowing to him as King of the universe. When we worry or anxiously strive for results in this life, then we put ourselves on the throne—as if this can be done. John 15 reminds us of how to cultivate the proper relationship with God—that it is abiding in Christ that we bear fruit for the kingdom. Biblical worship of God is all about process. The results are up to God himself.
CONCLUSION – THINGS TO REMEMBER
Although God is clearly the one who deepens trust in the heart of the disciple of Christ, there are a few things that I want to encourage you to remember:
- Praying and asking God to teach you how to trust him, is of the Spirit, not the flesh. This would never happen if God did not initiate the desire for greater trust in your heart.
- Trust is surrender, never manipulation. I believe that as I began the turn to rely upon God in the events of my daily life that he chose to encourage me greatly in the first steps I was taking. Trusting God can feel like jumping off into an abyss—it is scary at first, so God was encouraging further trust with quick results. Sometimes we may have to trust God with things that we will never fully understand or see resolved until we get to heaven.
- Anxious striving takes humility to overcome. We must turn away from our worrying, and still our minds in God’s presence. This should happen in increasing frequency throughout the day, as we place our trust in him. Consider Psalm 46:10, “Be Still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
- When trials come, remember that these serve as James 1 teaches, to test our faith and make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
- Trust God at all times, remembering that when things don’t make sense to us—this is because God is God and we are not. Only He can see the master plan!
- Becoming aware of God’s presence and his work through you is a big part of worshiping him.
- Remember that the process of life lived in relationship with God according to Scripture is what really matters.
- Meditate often on the Psalms to remind yourself that when we are thinking and living rightly then God is at the center of everything we do. I love Psalms 46, 62, 27, and 131.
- QUESTION: What else is involved in worshiping God rather than ourselves?
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Lord willing, I will board a plane in Niamey tonight, leaving Africa again. Every time I come to this wonderful, difficult place, God teaches me more about himself and his work… in the world and in me.
Our time in Gaya, Niger and Kandi, Benin was packed full of gospel-preaching opportunities. We preached in villages along the road to Gaya on Friday, in Gaya on Saturday, and in Kandi on Sunday and Monday. We established contact with Songhai people in two areas of Kandi, which was one of our purposes in making the trip there. The people were willing to hear our preaching and often expressed gratitude for our coming. But the darkness of Islam is very deep here. Praise God, the light of the gospel can and will penetrate the deepest darkness.
There were some in Kandi who said to us, “You are loving us. You come and speak truth. But we have many questions. We know that you leave tomorrow. When will you return to answer them?” Please join with me in praying that the Lord of the harvest will send gospel workers to the fields of Kandi. Perhaps he would even choose to send someone reading this very blog….
I have included a couple of photos. One is of a group of young men I shared with. The other photo is of me and Mohammadu, a man I met in a village near Niamey in 2013. He is now in Gaya working. It was so good to see him again and to study the Word with him. Please pray for his walk with Jesus.
As I leave for Louisville tonight, please pray for my travel. Pray for the Fox family as they continue to serve the Songhai with the gospel. Pray that Bethany BC will have more opportunities to come alongside them here to serve with them. Pray for the Songhai to be freed from darkness into the glorious light of Christ’s salvation.
Thank you for laboring in prayer.
Until the whole world hears,
The last three days have been quite full… very hot… and richly blessed by God. It has been so encouraging to study God’s Word with these Songhai brothers. We have studied the sure promise of our Lord’s return and the sure promise that his people will persevere as He preserves us for that Day. We have seen the wonderful implications that these realities have upon our lives as citizens of His eternal kingdom. It has been such a joy to, yet again, see how these truths transcend ethnic backgrounds and cultures to show plainly that we Christians are One People, called by the Name that is above every other name.
Thank you for your prayers for us. I am including a few photos from our conference.
Early tomorrow, we will drive 12 hours south to the city of Gaya, stopping at several villages along the way. We will be teaching “creation to Christ.” We will spend a day in Gaya before crossing the Benin border to the city of Kandi. Please pray that the gospel will bear fruit.
I miss you and am praying for you!
Until the whole world hears,