Adjust Your Lifestyle to Fit Your Mission Field – part 24

My wife and I were recently in a remote people group with a group of missionary candidates and they brought out my least favorite food. They brought me an entire plate full of several large black mushrooms. There is only one way to deal with this situation: put them in your mouth and eat them. If you are a Christian, you should eat what is set before you. This does not apply only to missionaries; it applies to all Christians because we are all missionaries, even if you are not aware of it. Christ’s teaching is not just for missionaries. Jesus sends everyone to take the Gospel to where it has not yet been preached. So, when you go, you had better be ready to adjust to their way of living.

Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.

(NIV Luke 10:7-8)

In many places, food is the only thing the people will have to offer you. My wife was with missionary candidates in a different remote mountain village. At the end of her stay she got up early to leave and it was still dark outside. The people were scrambling to get something together to give her to eat on the long journey back home. They gave her some spiny vegetables to eat on the eight-hour journey back down the mountain. She ate some along the way and had a few left over. When she got home, we ate those spiny vegetables because of the sacrifice the people made to give them to us.

I was in an unreached people group with the new missionary and we were offered a glass of water. He held the glass of water up to the sun and saw hundreds of bacteria swimming around in it. “Don’t look in the glass” I told him. “Pray first, then drink it down; God will protect you”. This is the best advice for all Christians and missionaries taking the Gospel where it has not been preached. You could close the door on your ministry before you even enter it if you do not eat and drink what is set before you.

I took a new missionary couple into a remote unreached people to start their mission work. There were no Christians there. We went to see the only contact that I had met a few years before. The indigenous man was alone because his wife had gone somewhere, so he served us cold soup. The lady missionary would not eat the soup, and I told her to eat it or she would offend the man who was the only contact they had. She said no because she didn’t like it. I ate her soup for her when the man was out of the room so that he would not be offended. I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t pleasant to eat, but it was food. Food keeps you going once it’s inside you. Not too long after that, the missionary couple did not make it. They lived in a town with electricity near that area for about two years and then returned to the bog city and their local congregation.

If you are planning on going one day to remote people groups, start eating food you are not accustomed to. Try new things at a restaurant and if you don’t like it, finish your plate. Eat the things you don’t like to eat and practice the things I share in this article. A simple thing that Jesus teaches us can mean the difference between the door opening for the Gospel or closing on you. It is an important and overlooked part of being a missionary.

We used to have teachers come to our training program from other countries. One particular couple didn’t like the food and complained about it. They also went into indigenous villages to do language learning with the candidates. The indigenous ladies asked my wife if there was something wrong with the couple (the teachers we brought in). They were not eating the food. The couple had hidden junk food in their backpacks so they would not have to eat the indigenous people’s food. It was the last year we asked teachers we did not know to teach our training centers candidates. We made the decision that would not accept anyone to teach the candidates if they had not been field missionaries.

Tips for eating what is set before you

  • When you are given something to eat, put it in your mouth and eat it.
  • When you are given something to eat, do not ask what it is, you will offend the people.
  • When you are given something to eat, do not say that you have never had this before.
  • When you are given something to eat, do not make faces or any gesture or body language.
  • When you are given something to eat, do not frown, SMILE, AND RAISE YOUR EYEBROWS like it is pleasing to you, NOT a sarcastic smile.
  • When you are given something strange to eat, do not look around the table at the faces of all the other missionaries and people; just eat it. Don’t whisper to your friends or make gestures to them. Keep your head down and eat your food.
  • When you are given something to eat if it is hard to eat, make sure people aren’t looking when you swallow as your gag reflex might show. Don’t show your gag reflex; you can do this.
  • If they only offer you a small portion, eat that portion. If you don’t like it don’t ask for more. They will most likely offer you more if they have it to give. If they do, take more, even if you don’t like it. Do not refuse the food given to you.
  • These tips apply to drinking as well.
  • If you are new missionaries on the field, or if you are thinking about going, start eating things you don’t like. This will help you adjust to it, so it won’t be so hard for you once on the field. Obey Jesus’s words, or you might be disqualified to work in His Kingdom.

Missionaries travel light

In most cases, going to a remote unreached people group means geographically remote. Don’t take a lot of things. You will not need them. Take as little as possible. A lot of things will only slow you down. If they are electrical things, they will be almost impossible to maintain. If you absolutely have to have a GPS, you only need it to work for a week or two to get you to your people group. Once you are there, you don’t need it anymore. I recommend that you do not take anything for your journey. Your goals are simple: get to your people group, learn the language, translate the scriptures, and disciple people slowly in order to create a solid discipleship movement.

You should try as hard as you can not to carry a computer. We need to develop a method of Bible translation that does not require a computer. Back in the old days, the translating missionaries used shoe boxes and three-by-five cards. Most people feel that they need a laptop computer to do translation work. This is going to be a hard problem to solve because it really does help you do translation much more quickly. I did not take a laptop into the remote people group I lived in. There was no electricity, so it made no sense to haul useless equipment up into the mountains. An electric power generator requires gasoline or fuel. That was not available to me. I had to use three-by-five cards to do my language learning. Remember that you will be language learning for several years. It may be that you have to live in the group for four or more years and then come out to do the translation and audio recordings. As I mentioned, this is a problem that you will have to solve. Solar power and other things are too expensive, and even if you could get it in, all that equipment makes you a target. You will have four or more years to think about how you are going to get scriptures into their language. Once the Gospels are recorded, there are small, affordable solar devices that can play them back. In the future, solar panels might be small enough and economical enough to power your laptop.

Jesus taught his disciples to travel light for many reasons. The problem is that we want to take all our things. They will just get in the way. Most of the things you leave behind you can learn to live without. Traveling light also takes the attention off of you. I went into remote people groups with another missionary that had a large camera. I didn’t want to tell him to leave it at behind because I knew how much he loved to take pictures. I have had years of experience wandering into unknown situations, so I figured I would tell him to stow it when necessary. It was not only a burden to carry, but the people in the middle of nowhere are pondering how much that camera is worth. In the country where I live, people have been killed for taking photos of remote people groups.

This is what I take on long journeys: one shoulder bag got along the way, with one extra pair of underwear and a two-liter bottle of water. The shoulder bag is made locally and contains a map, pen, paper, and a few small items. The small items in my bag are aspirin, fingernail clippers, earplugs, mosquito repellent, and a roll of toilet paper. I do not take watches, jewelry, or other items of value. If it is the rainy season, a rain poncho. Sometimes I carry a cheap cellphone, but in ninety percent of the remote areas where I have traveled, there wasn’t any cell phone service. I took it so that my wife can call me if she needs me once I come into range. When I come into range, I get her message. This is what I have carried for years, and I can say for certain that I don’t need any of it. I could do without it.

The other disadvantage of taking a lot of these things is that you will not be looking to pick up those things in the local culture. They make you stand out because they are from outside the local culture. If you don’t take anything, or if you take very little, what you do pick up along the way will be what the local people use. If you have a bag from outside the local culture, people want to know what you have in your bag. If you have a bag from the local culture, they tend to think that it has what they have in their bags. Most outsiders have really cool bags and really cool things in their cool bags. Your cool bag and cool things could get you in trouble.

Travel light and pick up all you can locally so that you blend in. Traveling light also frees you up to not have to stay in a very secure place. If you decide to do two or three-day treks, you don’t have to rent a secure place to leave your valuables. Traveling light keeps you moving and saves energy.

A friend went with me on many trips to the mountains. He carried a seventy-pound pack with him everywhere. It was filled with all kinds of stuff, mostly his comfort items. He suffered so much lugging that heavy backpack around. It also looked conspicuous to people when we came into town. I just tried to ignore his luggage, because he was the only person at that time who would go with me. There were other young people who traveled with lots of stuff, and, half the way up the mountain, they lost energy, and I had to carry their extra weight. After a few of those experiences, we made rules. Everyone carries their own baggage. People occasionally remind me that I used to toss things out of their bags before we hiked up into the mountains. I don’t remember doing this, but I do remember carrying other people’s heavy stuff. When I first got married, I hurt my wife’s feelings by requiring her to carry her own weight. To this day, she will carry her own bags. I have to insist she let me carry her bags.

Traveling light is an art. You can also fly to other places much more easily with one small bag carried on. I do not ever check luggage under the plane unless it is absolutely necessary. If you don’t check luggage you do not have to worry about it getting lost, nor do you have to wait for it to come out. Buy what little you need in the country you are traveling to.

Even today, when people are coming to our area to travel into the unreached peoples, I tell them to not bring all their fancy missionary gear. They bring it anyway. It usually consists of very expensive missionary clothing with all the pockets and labels. They also wear two hundred dollar hiking boots. Their backpacks are very eye-catching, with all kinds of gadgets and even drinking systems integrated. The only people you are helping are those who sold you all that fancy gear. Or the people that kill you for it and sell it to feed their families. No one else around has any of that stuff, and you only run the risk of someone wanting to take it from you by force. You will end up in heaven and not have even helped the local people. They themselves will not even use it. They will be selling it to the next tourist that comes along traveling light.

The more stuff you carry, the more time you have to spend packing and unpacking it. Plastic bags full of all-natural homemade snacks, giblets, and so on are all completely unnecessary. They eventually run out, and then you are missing them. I have seen people refuse food offered by the indigenous people because they carried in food. All this takes your focus off the real issues at hand and the unreached peoples. It is all part of the world system meant to distract you and keep you tied to the materialistic society you came from.

Seventy percent of the world does not have those kinds of things, and, when you arrive, you look like someone from another planet. The local people are focused on your garb and devices and not on your message. Traveling light is one other opportunity you have to sacrifice what you want. I will never forget my first mentor and the lessons he taught me about material things. He would say over and over with a disdainful tone, “Things, they are just things.” Jesus needs his disciples to be freed up from material things and home hooks. “Home hooks,” are those things that keep you needing to get back home.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

(NIV Matthew 19:21)

Do you think Jesus was kidding? Was he trying to make a statement with one person that he did not require with all of his other disciples? Did he know what he was doing? He means what he means. Go sell all your things and give the money to the poor. You don’t even need the money you made selling all your things. You also cannot give it to someone in your family. If you follow his instructions explicitly you will not be able to return one day and use it.

Many years ago, I asked a friend to join me on the mission field and help out. He told me he was going to sell all his personal things before he left his family. You don’t hear of this much but he did it and I believe it was the right thing to do. He is still in ministry today working in unreached people group information with his wife that he found on the mission field. Today, you can obey the commands Jesus gave us 2,000 years ago and be blessed for doing them.