Now that I am in Europe, I can look back on my time in Asia and Africa and draw some summative conclusions that might challenge you in a good way.
The value of face-to-face visits
I could have telephoned or emailed all the people whom I met and got a good portion of the information that I now have, but I wouldn’t have received all of the information or benefits that I did get by physically going there. Because I was there:
- I developed a more personal relationship with the people I met. We had time for small talk, to learn who each other really is, and to not just share information, but to build a warm relationship. Who knows what my expanded sphere of acquaintances might lead to?
- We talked about more than my agenda. I wanted to leave a deposit in exchange for what I was getting from the people I met with, and as they had time to talk about whatever was on their minds, I was able to help them in some way. All parties left these meetings with take-aways.
- I met a number of people almost on the spur of the moment when someone I was seeing suggested I meet a few other people, and those meetings were fruitful.
- I was able to see them in their context and appreciate all the more the nuances of what they were telling me. I understand Hillsong Church much better by having seen the complexity of their operations. Watching someone who could neither read nor write open an account at the Urwego Opportunity Bank and seeing the advertising in the branch showed me the level of care the bank has taken to bring financial services to the least in its society. Watching children run to Connie at Village of Hope spoke volumes about the love they are receiving. Each in-person interaction helped me see foreign mission work in a slightly different light, and I am sure that will have positive benefits for the mission of CCCC. I have a wealth of information about the administrative and governance aspects of foreign ministries that missionaries and ministry leaders were willing to provide confidentially that will serve as grist for the strategy mill here at CCCC!
By going, I’m further ahead than if I didn’t go. But I didn’t go to Asia and Africa because I’ve always wanted to, quite the contrary. I’ve never, ever had even the vaguest hint of the slightest inclination of a desire to go to Asia or Africa, ever. For a variety of reasons I had formed opinions that made me either afraid of those societies or at the least, determined to avoid them. The reason I went was that I had enough evidence from people who lived in those countries that I suspected my fears and dislikes were not well-founded, but based upon ignorance of reality.
For example, my life insurance provider suspended my coverage while I was in Rwanda, but the people living in Rwanda refuted the risk. The insurer’s risk assessment was one reason why my visit there was so short, but never being more than a few feet away from one of my hosts 24 hours a day mitigated the risk to the point I was willing to go for at least a short visit.
Personal growth from travel
Even where there was some truth to my aversion, I thought it might be bearable in the short term (here I am thinking more at the level of preferences than, say, personal safety).
I asked myself:
- If I lived life based on my fears and ignorance, what might I not do that I should be doing?
- What opportunities would I never know about?
- What misrepresentations would I continue to perpetuate?
- How far short of God’s purposes for me would I fall?
- How much would my life shrivel from what it was meant to be?
- What personality characteristics and flaws would develop from living life based on fear and ignorance?
Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear of burning my hand on the stove elements keeps me safe. Fear is definitely a life-saving emotion when it is a truly valid fear. I don’t believe you must put yourself in danger to conquer every fear. But there are some fears we live with that are not helpful. These need to be addressed. I asked people with direct experience in those countries about my fears and then took steps to mitigate them. When we choose not to investigate and test our fears, we live voluntarily in continued ignorance and missed opportunity without even realizing it!
If you have a fear or suspect you might be living in some type of ignorance that may be holding your ministry back from fulfilling its mandate, then you need to do something about it. If you have been paralyzed by fear, I wrote about how to embolden yourself to take positive action in my post, When Fear Strikes.
So, with respect to moving forward on your ministry’s mission, what are you afraid of, and how will you test whether or not it is a valid fear? One way to identify your fears might be to ask yourself, what have you ruled out as a non-starter? What strategies are never considered just because they are obviously off-limits? Some of those may actually be strategies you are afraid of. Check them out. You may be surprised!
“Do not be afraid!“
God, either directly or through one of his servants, repeated 73 times in the NIV Bible