When we think about sharing the gospel with people or being a faithful child of God, what comes to our mind? When you think about things you can do to make an impact or potentially change the trajectory of someone’s life, what are those things?
I (Nathan), found it interesting that on this past bush trip two different answers to those questions were given of our collective work as missionaries among the Mahafaly.
First, a visiting pastor from elsewhere on the island came to learn what he could from the Mahafaly. He came away with many insights, but this was what he said about us as missionaries: “I can see from you and what I know about Grant that you love this people. You are not afraid to stay out here with them, eat their food, and sleep in their villages. You have humbled yourself and they can see that you love them.”
The second answer came from Emanda, one of the Mahafaly leaders whose life has most radically changed (murderer to man of God type story). He said, “When Grant came we knew he was different from the other people who had tried to get us to follow God. The others came making it clear that the authority would always be theirs. From the beginning, our missionaries made it clear that we would be responsible. They didn’t keep the authority, they gave it to us and taught us how to teach ourselves. And now look, here we are hosting our own meeting, organizing ourselves, and teaching ourselves!”
Intentionally loving people, and giving them dreams and responsibility. These are two big things that stick out to our brothers here that enabled them to hear the gospel, tell others, and start over a hundred new churches. (1) We set aside our personal preferences and comfort to be with them and (2) we gave them a bigger plan for their lives and expected something out of them.
Now there are a million caveats that come with that–the first being that this may apply generally but it only really helps when we’re talking about the good news that Jesus did this for us first. (1) He humbled himself to our place so that we could have his life, and (2) he gave us a bigger plan and responsibilities for that new life–to reach the world with the good news!
What makes us successful Christians? What changes lives? At least according to people here, it’s relationships and responsibility.
That was surprising to me. I expected to hear how impressed people were with our language, or how clear our teaching had been. Instead our impact has been (at least by these accounts) relational and inspirational. To the people we work among, we are not successful because we work hard, or because we are really smart, or brave. They have listened because they saw our love lived out among them. They have listened because we presented them with good news and a better plan for their life. They listened because we expected them to be responsible and taught them how to be, instead of just running things ourselves.
Take the time to love people, especially those different than you. Invest in them and teach them how to be responsible with what God has given them, especially the good news of Jesus. This is a challenge and encouragement for me and I hope for you too.