Missionaries Get Provision Along the Way – part 5

A test of a true missionary is how he or she gets provision from God. My team and I walked long distances into the mountains and jungles to get to remote people groups. On one of my first missionary trips, I went alone to research an unreached people group. I arrived at the market in a town near the people group. A man came up to me and asked if I was a Christian. I said yes, and he was overjoyed and invited me to his house for breakfast. This was God’s provision for my bread. I got bread along the way. Afterward, I was leaving, and he accompanied me to the market and purchased a shoulder bag for me. This was God’s provision for my bag, also gotten along the way. It is made of wool and has lasted for many years. I think he paid three dollars for it. I still have it to this day. I have had many indigenous men cut staffs for me. I was traveling into a remote area that was home to several unreached people groups. One day, I was at the beginning of a four-and-a-half-hour hike into the mountains, and I met an indigenous man on the path. He asked me where I was going. I told him that I was going to the next village into the mountains and he gently handed me a small walking stick. This was God’s provision for my staff. Again, I got it along the way. At that time the little village had no roads, and the climb was strenuous. I needed that walking stick. I still have it.

Pay close attention to what I am about to write. If you take everything you need for the journey, you will not see God’s faithful provision. But, more importantly, you will not have help from the people you meet along the way. In many cases, they want to help you. It is important to get help from the people. There are many reasons for this. The first reason is that you are humbling yourself to receive their help. This is for them, not for you. They need to see your humility. This shows that you are sincere. If you receive their help, it shows them that you are a humble person. This gives you favor with them. The second reason is that you are creating a bridge between you and the people because, in their culture, it is important to accept their gift no matter how small. Another very important reason is that you are now carrying things local to the area. This helps you blend in and gives the local people the idea that you might have a reason to be there or at least you might know what you are doing. People who carry all their cool store-bought missionary gear into remote areas don’t need help from others. They also look ridiculously out of place to the local people. They do not look like they know what they are doing, and they look proud because they have no need to receive anything from the locals. So, don’t take anything for the journey. You will get it along the way. You might have to walk very far to find these men and women of peace, but they exist in almost every part of the world. They will help you. Where they don’t exist, remember what Jesus teaches and shake the dust off your feet and move on. Jesus knows what he is doing.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.

(NIV Matthew 10:14)

Once I was with a young missionary walking through the rain forest. An indigenous man who was our guide started to cut staffs for both of us with his machete. He handed over the first one and I eagerly received it. He asked the other missionary if he wanted a staff and the young man declined being in such good shape. The guide used it for himself. As we walked deeper into the jungle, the trail became difficult and eventually disappeared. The new missionary slipped twice along the way. He didn’t fall, but the hike through the rocky jungle required much more attention and energy without the staff. He could have just accepted the provision God was giving him along the way.

You need to recognize God’s provision when it is in front of you. It may be more important that you learn to recognize that God is using local people to provide than it is getting the faith that he will provide. God isn’t trying to teach you faith. You will eventually learn the faith part. If you are going, you are already showing faith. The important thing is to take help from the locals. If you don’t recognize that God is using the local people, you may have closed your own missionary door. If you take nothing for the journey, you are forced to accept the provision, be humbled, and blend in to at least look like you should be out there in the middle of nowhere. If people give you something, take it, even if you don’t think you need it. They are trying to help you, and you should humble yourselves and take the gift. In some cultures, you will have deeply offended the person if you don’t take it, just like the young missionary offended the indigenous man in the rainforest. Take everything given to you, even if you think you will never need it. Hold on to it for a few days, and you might find that you do need it. Don’t take illegal items from people.

I once asked the director of missions for a large denomination how God provided for him. He said that when he and his wife were new missionaries, they went to a city with no other Christians or churches. They went with no monthly support or backing from the mission because, at that time, there was no mission agency within their denomination. He said that he and his wife just felt compelled to go. Forty years ago, the city where they went was very hard and resistant to the Gospel. The new missionary couple was surprised when unbelievers brought them food to help them out. Their home church did not support them, so they had to accept help from the local people. Those people later became new believers. He told me that it is necessary to send missionaries this way again because it forces the new missionary to bond with the people. I told him that we were starting to teach that everyone should send missionaries with or without their financial backing. Who would have thought that sending them without finances would help them bond with the local people and opens doors?

I have met missionaries that have it all. They have expensive four-wheel-drive diesel vehicles they drive into the mountains. Our team has a rule that we do not use other missionaries’ vehicles to go into unreached people groups. We use the same vehicles the local people use to get to their villages. I still don’t know all the reasons why we do this; I just know that it seems right. I cannot imagine that Jesus would say today, “Take nothing for the journey, except a four-by-four diesel exploration vehicle with integrated GPS.” Time after time, we have seen the provision of the Lord along the way. It has taught us how to interact with the people because we had to interact with them. Many times, we have been in the middle of nowhere, and strangers have offered us food. When will we ever learn to trust God to provide if we bring everything along on the journey? More importantly, how long will it take us to go if we wait until we have all the stuff we think we need? And, finally, will we ever bond with the local people if there isn’t anything they can help us with? I heard a missionary from Morocco preach that he did not want a vehicle, because taking public transportation helped him learn the language.

On a long trip into the mountains, we came to a river we had to cross to get to remote unreached villages. I was with an indigenous guide who was afraid of water and decided that he would not cross the river with us. I crossed with my friend and we kept going. We were met by the authority before entering the town and were told that we could not enter. We ignored him, pretending not to understand him, and entered the town anyway. We had come too far to let one person stop us. He ran ahead, back to the village, and by the time we arrived the people had closed all their doors and windows. A few were left open, but they were closed as we passed. We walked through the entire town to the far side where the people had not gotten the news to shut their doors. A kind lady and her children greeted us. She made us food and told us about the area and that, sadly, there were no Christians. To this day, I remember that food and how good it was. A large cliff kept us from going further into that people group, so we had to turn around and walk several hours back to where we started. She knew that we needed food for that long walk. God knew and moved on her heart to provide for us. We got back to the town from which we started at about ten o’clock at night. The palm of my hand was bleeding from where I used my walking stick to climb the mountain. I wouldn’t have made it without my walking stick. We were walking through town in the dark, and a man came out of a large house to greet us. We told him where we had been and the name of the lady who fed us. He was astonished that we had gone that far and that we met his friend. He fed us supper and allowed us to sleep in his house that night. He also invited us back and offered us his horses for the next trip.

Keep in mind that there are many places in the world where missionaries need to go where there will be no access to money. You simply will not be able to get it out of the bank. There are no automatic teller machines, or the banking system is so antiquated that you can’t get your money out. Sometimes, the banks are so corrupt that you might lose your money trying to get it wired to you. Even if you could get it out, what would you do with it? In remote places that are so far back in the wilderness, money isn’t going to help you much. I know a lady who was in Senegal for two years, and she could never get her monthly support. The bank in Senegal never could get the transfers, so all her money stayed in France the entire time she was on the mission field. But she decided to stay, and God provided. She had to be humble and bond with the people. You will never need all that money in remote unreached people groups. Moreover, if you take it along, it will only cause trouble or make you a target. It will only make you stand out in the crowd when you need to blend in.

Several years ago, a good missionary training center, taught you to not live beyond the level of the people you are ministering to. But you would think that we took that lesson and threw it out the classroom window. Take nothing for the journey goes along with this concept that you do not live beyond the means of the people to whom you minister. If you go with all the support-raising and gear most traditional missionaries have, you will not be living on the level of the people and you definitely won’t need any help from them. You will maintain your pride though.

I had a several-hour conversation with a missionary couple that sold all they had and went to the mission field to live on the level of the people. The mission base leader asked them to live in a nicer house, but they really liked the typical houses better. The missionary lady told me that she felt freer to invite her indigenous lady friends to coffee while living in the typical house. I lived in an unreached people group for nearly a year with sixty dollars of monthly support. One reason is that I was not living beyond what the local people had. Another reason is that it is all the monthly support I was given. I was forced to live at the level of the people. Additionally, it was a day’s journey to the town where I could get to a bank. Eventually, it got old going back and forth. I got tired of hiking nine hours and riding cheap busses for another seven hours just to get money out of the bank. I was talking to a mission leader about the sending of a young lady to Nepal. He said that she would need $800.00 Dollars per month, and they just couldn’t see how they were going to be able to send her. I did a little research on where she was going and later told him that she wouldn’t need all that support. It will just cause her problems and attract attention. I was basically teaching him what Jesus taught his disciples: she should not take anything for the journey.

We might better listen to Jesus. It doesn’t sound like he is giving us an option here. The less you take on your mission, the more obedient you will be to Jesus’s teaching. I was taught by my missionary pastors to never build up a ministry on how much monthly support I have today, because that level of support may not be here tomorrow. They also taught me that I should build my ministry on the least amount of money needed so that it is reproducible by the local people I am discipling. They also said to never build a ministry around support from big churches, because they are unfaithful. They cut their mission budget often and for any reason. These things I am writing are important because they all follow more closely to the same thing that Jesus taught his disciples. I was teaching at a mission-training center and encountered a young couple who were planning to work among remote unreached peoples. The young man told me that when they first arrived, their church had pledged to support them monthly. After they were settled in, they got a call from their church saying that their support was dropped. The church said they would stand behind the missionaries. But they didn’t say how far behind them they would be standing. The young man told me that God had given him the verse Luke 9:3: that they should take nothing for the journey. When he told me this, they were finishing week ten of a twelve-week course. God provided along the way.

Here is another lesson you hear taught in good missionary training centers: do not use money to buy people’s participation in the ministry. They used to call these “rice Christians.” The local people come to your church or discipleship as long as there is rice (money). If the missionary doesn’t have any money, he or she won’t be creating this dependency. Or, if the missionary is working to make their own money on the field, the people won’t perceive them as missionaries. When was the last time you heard the term “rice Christians”? If you pay the people who work for you in ministry when the pay is gone, they are gone, and the ministry is gone. Read John chapter ten. I have seen this over and over: paid people falling into many problems and causing damage to the ministry. Back in the old days, many of us volunteered to serve without pay. We worked long hard hours on a team and under leaders without salaries. I remember rarely getting an offering from those old-school volunteer ministries. If Jesus is telling you to take nothing for the journey, he is not offering to pay you or your disciples. Don’t worry; you won’t lack anything.

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

(NIV Matthew 19:29)

After Jesus tells us to take nothing for the journey, he becomes very specific, saying don’t take a staff, and a few other things. A staff or walking stick helps to stabilize you and protects you and gives you more reach. A bag allows you to take other things like bread and money. Money allows you to buy more bread along the way. An extra set of clean clothing helps you save energy. Why would Jesus get so specific? Because when we begin to say, “Well I will just take money,” it opens the floodgate. We begin to say that we need just a little bit more. “Well, my staff can also be a flashlight and an umbrella if I get the right kind.” This starts to spiral out of control. “I just need one more thing, and oh don’t forget that thing, ah yes, I need one of those too.” Then other people around your jump in and say don’t forget about this thing and that thing. Your family will be selfish and want to keep you at home as long as they possibly can, waiting to get enough money to buy all the missionary things you need. You will even have other missionaries tell you all the things they think you need. There is probably a book written on things you need to go as a missionary. You know things have spun wildly out of control when by the time you get ready to go to the mission field, you have a master’s degree in theology along with $4,500 monthly support requirement, full medical, dental and life insurance, a 4×4 vehicle with GPS. Also, your kids are to be in the best schools. You have a special fund set up with money being drawn out of your monthly support into it, in the event that your refrigerator goes out or if there is a coupe and you need to get your family out of a dangerous situation. You also have a contingency plan for kidnapping, and the list goes on. You also have to be in perfect physical health and pass a psychological exam. If you meet all these requirements, you have brought so much stuff with you that you will have to rent a huge house to put it all in. You don’t find huge rent houses in remote areas. You will be forced to live in a modern city and in a situation that is far above the level of the people to whom you are ministering. Remote unreached peoples are remote from big modern cities. All this stuff literally hinders us from getting far enough out to be in a remote unreached people group.It also hinders the missionary from staying long-term. Some don’t ever make it to the field because they just could not raise the startup fund. A startup fund is the amount of money you need to get settled in on the mission field. It is separate from your monthly support.

Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

(NIV Luke 10:4)

We travel across the world to make a little home away from home. And because of it we never fully adapt to the culture. We grow tired of the mission field not being enough like home and eventually leave. The ones who happen to go to remote unreached people groups don’t stay long because they are just too remote to make it a home away from home. It is too remote to sustain their former level of living.