Sunday, March 15, 2015

What is left for Westerners to do?

Early on in our time here, just a couple of months, we had a visit from a man that was in charge of us at one of our churches in the US. We'd never met before so we loaded on our motorcycles in the rain and met him at his hotel for dinner. I hadn't realized it beforehand, but he is also a professor whose expertise is Christian work around the world. Happy to be talking with an intellectual and intimidated to be talking to someone who could so effectively evaluate our own work, we asked for his perspective.

"I don't believe there's really anything left for Westerners to do around the world except train. The rest of the work should be done by the local Christians."

The same thing was echoed this week from another man who has worked in this country for 40+ years. "You came here from the West. There is a local church here. Why aren't they doing the work? Please in whatever you do, focus on training and motivating the local church."

I believe this too. There are exceptions. There are specialty jobs that no one locally can do yet. We can all benefit from each other, all around the world. Is there a place for an African, European, or Asian in serving the church in the US? Absolutely. The same should be true for outsiders here. People from outside of a culture can provide unique perspectives and can be really helpful.

However, we from the US are coming from a culture that likes to think that we are the best and we need to rescue everyone around the world all the time. We do that with charity and missions and politics. It ends up a bit messy because we are not, as it turns out, the answer to all of the problems and neither does everyone want our help. Let us not be a self-perpetuating industry that circumvents the responsibility and ability of the local church to do the work here.

But it IS true that education and training is empowering. Education and training are perhaps the greatest thing that we can bring to developing societies, to developing churches. There is much to discuss about how we train, considering that we come with Western methods and materials to cultures that work quite differently.

Especially in cultures that are relational but really always, because the church is about discipleship, training and empowering work best in the context of relationships. In my conversations with local believers here I have been asking them to identify their points of need and how Westerners can be valuable. So often the answer comes with - grow to know and love the students you work with so deeply that you can see behind the curtain, under the surface, so that they can be raw and show you their fears and doubts. Disciple, journey, mentor, and love them to be strong leaders who will carefully shepherd the church here.

Ahh - how my heart sings at these discussions. Training is Isaac's heartbeat. Discipleship is mine. It's really cool to see the Indonesian church express their longing for the very things God pointed us here to do.

Local church at work in this photo! Compassion International works through local churches here in Indonesia, and all of the leaders and tutors that we met with were really cool Indonesian Christians who loved on kids and organized a fantastic program. 

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