The conference we have come to is a gathering of missionaries from our region who have just completed their first year on the mission field. The purpose is to give them a chance to reflect, receive some pastoral care, share their experiences with others who they trained with upon their first arrival, and also receive some teaching and training that will equip them better for their ministries. The group is small: the German team leader for the small team here in Montenegro, a Korean couple who are serving in Kosovo, an Ecuadoran woman and a Chilean couple who are serving in Albania, and two young women – a Moldovan and an Austrian – who are serving with me in Moldova. I have come as one of the teacher/trainers along with another long-time missionary, Dave, who is American but has been living in Austria for more than 30 years. We have been hosted and organized by Micah, a woman from Idaho who arrived in eastern Europe at the same time I did and who is now serving in Montenegro, after spending her first term in Albania. Micah and I get along really well and it has been nice to renew acquaintance with her. She’s going the extra mile in hosting several of us in her home for a few days after the conference.
For me this week has been a gift in the opportunity I have had to do the Bible teaching I love to do. The first few days I was doing seminars on how to study the Bible and for the last few days I was teaching the book of Colossians. I also had the privilege of working together with Dave in presenting several workshops related to ministry skills. We did a few on transitions and adapting to the culture and then some on mentoring and listening skills.
One of the highlights for all of us was the opportunity to hear Dave’s stories. He is renowned in our organization as a story teller – and does he have stories to tell!! Around the dinner table after the meal each evening he would entertain us with all kinds of stories.Whether they were stories of his childhood or stories of his Bible-smuggling days, they were either humorous or rivetingly exciting. As we talked about the challenges they had faced bringing the word of God to countries that had been behind the Iron Curtain, I suggested to Dave that we have it much easier now as missionaries – at least in the countries where we are serving. I was really challenged by Dave’s response that the opposition is just as strong but we don’t always recognize it as easily. The things that make missions difficult now are such things as materialism, that distracts and deters people from listening to or responding to God’s call to follow Christ. If people are satisfied temporally, they don’t always realize how great are their deeper spiritual needs. And so they don’t bother listening to the good news we bring.
I guess we need to pray that we as missionaries not be entrapped by materialism and lulled into indifference and lack of passion for the message we bring and the ministry we fulfill. Also that the people we seek to reach are not deceived into thinking that material things can fulfill spiritual needs. Dave smuggled Bibles to bring the word that people were longing for. We openly bring the Word of God and sometimes people are totally unaware and uncaring that this is a message of hope and redemption that can dramatically change their lives for the better.