Stephen Drew—Outreach report
Over two thousand years ago Jesus gave his followers a commission to go into every part of the world and make disciples of everyone who would be willing to listen. One of the main things that moved me to do a DTS was a revelation that the command which Jesus made has not been completed even though the Church has the ability to reach every nation in the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. The reason the Great Commission has not been completed is because we who follow Jesus at this present age are not going to the ends of the earth as Jesus told us to. Repeatedly I have heard the call from those followers of Jesus, who have chosen to go into the unreached places of the world, simply for more missionaries. This has been the request of missionaries since the time of Jesus, and is still true today. Once the truth was revealed to me, I could only have the response to go to the unreached of the world, which was ultimately the sole reason I choose to do a DTS.
Being on outreach helped me understand some of the reasons why people aren’t going to make disciples of the world. Adjusting to a new culture is one of the reasons why it is difficult for Christians to devote their lives to completing the Great Commission. In Thailand I encountered many differences in the culture than what I was used to, however, even many of the parts of Thailand we were in had conformed to aspects of Western culture. Some of the simple difficulties and differences I had with the culture were: the food, the language, and the unscheduled life style.
We found out a few weeks upon our arrival in Thailand that Thais enjoy having at least one thing in the meal spicy. However, strangely for us it seemed that everything we eat was spicy. This was difficult for me adapt to as I am not used to, and I do not enjoy spicy food. The food was also filled with MSG which I believe contributed to sickness on many different occasions. I found my self missing Western food time and again during outreach, though this was one area I able to adapt to fairly well. I learned to eat spicy food, and indeed my tolerance level for spiciness increased greatly. However, food is something that is an essential aspect of life, and could even be a factor which would keep many from living over seas.
Though the food was fairly easy for me to adapt to, the language was not. Thai, being one of the top five most difficult languages in the world to learn, is a tonal language which I struggled with greatly. When the difference between two words was simply the pitch in my voice it seemed I could almost never pronounce it correctly. Learning a new language does not come naturally to me, and have to work very hard at understanding and speaking a foreign language. Though I was able to learn some basic phrases in Thai, it was far from what I would have liked to learn. Part of this reason was I simply gave up putting effort into learning the language because of lack of energy and lack of focus. This is something I wish I would have worked harder at, though I suppose I learned enough for the short stay we were there. Having to master a new language is one of the largest obstacles in having enough missionaries to complete the Great Commission, though it is something I am willing to work at to overcome.
The final cultural difference I encountered which I struggled with was the lack of structure in the lives of Thais. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Jesus did tell us to “not worry about tomorrow”. However, it was frustrating to be in a culture which lives out this command literally, when I come from a culture where events are planned years in advance. Not only was it difficult to adjust to not knowing what was happening the next day, it was also difficult that events did not happen within the time frame we were told. I realize this is how most of the world lives, but when trying to adjust to this way of life after spending my whole life very scheduled it was somewhat frustrating to adjust to. This difference in culture did bother me, but it never brought me to extreme irritation.
Over all the most important thing I learned from living in a different culture is that even though cultures have differences such as the ones I listed, people and the way we live, are the same all around the world. I have found that children around the world simply want to be held and played with, even if I can give them nothing else. I found that teenagers in North America, South America, and now Asia all struggle with matters such as: looking attractive, having a good relationship with their parents, and having a romantic relationship. I have found that mothers have a deep love for their children whether they are poor and living in a shack, or rich and living in a mansion, and I found that the support of a man to his family is essential no matter what the family. God has created us in his image to live according to his plan; wherever I go in the world this will never change. Every person will still be created in the image of God, and God’s plan will always be the solution to the problems of a person’s life. This truth came alive to me on outreach to Thailand.
Though living in Asian culture was new to me in many ways, living with a group of 14 other people was also a different culture in itself. Each and every member on the team came from a different background of how they have grown up, creating a mesh of Western culture like I have never experience before. However, God’s hand was upon our team. It was a blessing to see how he orchestrated our different gifts, talents, and backgrounds together to be a unit committed to building his kingdom. Amy cut hair, Leah held children, Jen preached, Rachel prayed, Laura danced, Brittani did dramas, Marianna lead, Sam built, Brandon cleaned, and I coached soccer. Each of us contributed whatever we could to whatever we were doing. I think the biggest accomplishment of was when one of us had to become something we never would have thought we would do or would have liked to do. It was when a member of our team helped coach soccer who had never played before, it was when someone spoke to a group of Thai’s who hated public speaking, and it was when someone was in a drama who didn’t like acting. All of on Team Thai became something we never thought we would never become for the sake of the gospel in one way or another.
Our team was strong in how we worked together. We supported and encouraged one another continually, and we knew how to use our gifts to work as a team. We dealt with conflict well and never had any issue that was never quickly dealt with, and we also were willing to serve each other even when we didn’t want to. However, one of the main ways in which we were weak was in mutual submission. We struggled to submit to others who were put into leadership many times, and when no one was elected as a leader that was when the real problems started. Many of us had strong wills and opinions which were not easily laid down before the rest of the group. This created conflict on a few occasions when it didn’t have to. We easily created opportunities to share the Gospel by our simple love for others and love within the team. However we were often threatened the most by our stubbornness and strong wills.
In our weakness and strength, our team had the joy and privilege of working with long term teams who had spent years in Thailand battling to stay united in Christ. On this outreach I experienced how short term teams and long term teams can join within a short period of time to make a remarkable impact on the nations. One of the best examples of how short term teams and the local church in the country can work together which we experienced was at the Burmese village we worked at. There has been a church in the Burmese village now for the past few years, yet until the time we came they had struggled to grow. When we came to the village as the first outreach team ever to go there, remarkable things happened that the local church has never experienced. Idols were cast down, people came to salvation, and miracles occurred. The reason for the big change was simply we had a different platform. We had four times as many people as there was staff at the church, which allowed us to do more ministries at one time. Also, being foreigners helped us tremendously as the Burmese were curious as to why we would come to their poor and small village.
The simple truth I came to realize is that more ministries can be done with more people. The local church, especially in unreached areas, needs more people to do ministry and help support them, and thus they need mission’s organizations. The role of the local church is mostly to disciple, and train, while mission’s organizations can do much more evangelism. Missions teams are very good for planting, while the local church is good for watering, but ultimately it is always God who makes it grow (1 Cor. 2:6-7)
After completing what I was called to do almost a year ago now, I can say with confidence I know that I was part of fulfilling the Great Commission, and even as I write this I’m thinking of how I am looking forward to going again to those who have never heard the Gospel again. As for my individual role was on outreach, sometimes it was to pray sometimes to it was to preach. My role was sometimes to hold a child, and sometimes to be in a skit. Sometimes it was simply to give my attention to whoever was speaking in hope that the Thais around me would keep their attention on whoever was preaching the Good News.
My favorite part of outreach was the times when I was able to tell of God’s plan of salvation to a group or to an individual. The opportunity I had, which comes to mind first when I think of when I was able to share the Gospel, was when Jen and I preached to classes of high school students with no translator. To this day I’m still not sure how much they understand, though what one girl said to us made the effort we put into to explaining the gospel more than worth it. After spending 30 minutes telling how God created the world and how he sent his son Jesus to come to the world to rescue the human race from sin, we paused to see if any of one of the class of 30 or so students had any questions. The class had their eyes riveted on us the entire time we were speaking, though I know they most likely understood little unless their was a divine intervention. At first there was silence as we waited for someone to ask anything of us, but then one girl said a sentence in Thai to another student who spoke a little English. The student who spoke some English told us that the girl had simply said “it is a beautiful equation.” The Gospel is a beautiful and simple equation indeed, just as is the equation of: when the Gospel if preached to the whole world Jesus will return (Matt. 23:14). Both beautiful equations require response. How wonderful it was to see the response of Thais and Burmese coming to faith in Jesus. How I hope and long for the response of Westerns to obey the simple equation of making disciples of all nations so that our Lord Jesus will return.