For the past five years, our church has partnered in multiple ways with Montana Indian Ministries and Pastor Bruce Plummer based on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. In this partnership we have been part of effective evangelism through service by partnering with local Christians who will continue discipleship long after we have gotten back on the plane. This mission and ministry is a worthy end it itself. However, my experiences as well as those of our teammates, have served and can serve as preparation for missions and ministries in other places around the globe. Here are several things I have been exposed to and a few things I have learned:
It is important to note that in some significant ways, this mission and ministry actually is international missions. This comes from a proper understanding of the word “nation.” Native Americans themselves grasp this as they refer to themselves as “nations.” A nation is a “people group” – a group that shares common traits, religion, language, way of life and cultural distinctives. Once you begin to understand the differences between Gross Venture, Assiniboine, Cree, Crow, Cheyenne (Northern and Southern), etc. you begin to have a further delineated understanding of people groups that further prepares you for understanding tribes and “nations” throughout the world.
We must remember if our aim is to share the Gospel, we are engaged in Spiritual Warfare. In fact, if you are a believer and it’s not your aim to share the Gospel, you are on the defensive of spiritual warfare already (and you are losing the battle). We have to be prepared for this, and the way to prepare is detailed in Ephesians 6. Spiritual warfare is all around us. It’s more real where you are than you think, you are just not paying attention. That notwithstanding, the palpable nature in a place where many do not worship the Son of God is intense and the darkness feels darker than you know until you have been there. What is important in these moments is to remember that He is the Light of Men and even the darkness is not dark to Him. Do not go in to battle without preparing to go in to battle. The most important thing we can do is pray constantly. If your assignment is to “prayer walk” take it very very seriously.
It is important to remember what our role is when we go to other places to participate in global evangelization. If there are pastors and missionaries on the field then it is our job to help them and not hinder them. The best way to know how to is to ask straightforward questions. We have a role in the disciple making process, but if we have not moved our lives to these places among these people then we will not be the most effective at this, so it is important that we follow any and all instructions we receive. If there is a local Christian presence, it is also important that we recognize we have come alongside them to partner with them and to investigate what ways we can help stimulate and support what God is already doing. We did not come to “save” whatever people group we are among but to help our brothers and sisters in this process. God saves them, we are just the messengers. I have grown to know and love others in different places in the globe of different tribes and tongues and there is nothing like the partnership in the Gospel we share. Look for and forward to these opportunities. In many places, they will be the ones who actually get to carry the Gospel to the most extreme unreached because frankly they can go places you and I can’t. If we are not humbled by carrying the Gospel and aiding others in carrying the Gospel, then it may not be the Gospel we carry.
There is nothing quite like realizing how different you are all the sudden. When you are accustomed to being the majority culture and suddenly find yourself as a minority surrounded by a great majority, it can be a bit shocking and maybe a little unnerving. Preparing for this is only helpful for missions and ministry, particularly if your background is similar to mine. This also prepares you to identify with what is the experience of the vast majority of the scattered peoples in the world. Curious stares by children and looks from adults ranging from interest to disdain will be commonplace no matter where you go. My wife, with her beautiful red hair, is an even further curiosity in some places. In other places in the world we have even had people take our picture just because of how different we are. So prepare yourself and smile for the camera (if culturally appropriate) !
You will offend people. Unfortunately you may not know it. This is why it is so important to have familiarized yourself with the culture to which you are going to spend time as much as possible. How loud do they speak? Do they maintain prolonged eye contact? Do they shake hands? How do they feel about feet ( I know you may not like them either, but it some places they really don’t like them)? Will there be venerated or religious objects or symbols around that I wouldn’t have even considered? It is essential in sharing the Gospel, which is offensive, to minimize incidental offensiveness as much as possible by being culturally sensitive. The best way to prepare or this is to ask a Christian brother or sister who is either from this culture or who has spent a great deal of time with this culture.
Native Americans are very hospitable as are many cultures throughout the world. It is important to both gracefully receive and extend hospitality. Where I am from, people will offer things and we often over politely decline. This is unacceptable among Native Americans. Anything from a cup of water to a personal gift is to be received and not declined. In other places you might need to be careful with complimenting certain things, because individuals may feel obligated to give it you. In other settings, hospitality is extended in order to merit or earn grace, karma, etc. Though that is an uncomfortable reality, receive the hospitality with a genuine heart with the intent of sharing the Gospel.
There are impoverished people in every region and amongst every people of the globe. However, if we cannot imagine going to sleep on something that is not a bed or even in a “house” or going to “bed” unsure of where our next meal will come from, then we do not understand real poverty. If we engage at any meaningful level this is something we will encounter no matter where we go. It is important that we are prepared to encounter real and extreme poverty so we know the best ways to help (which are not always what we think).
If your intention is to share the Gospel with any people group, worldview considerations are of the utmost importance. One thing they all share in common (including non-Christian Native Americans) is not understanding exactly Who Jesus Christ is and what He came to do. On Reservations the overwhelming majority are monotheists who believe in a single Creator. This is a great place to begin the conversation. In other parts of the world, people have no concept of a Creator in the established philosophy and religion. At any rate, no one really cares for the One Who has created his or her heart unless their hearts have been newly created (Romans 1). It will serve you well to be familiar with the local worldview(s) in order to have effective conversations. However, I can also personally attest to the power of the Gospel that transcends worldviews.
I will add: though we share a lot in common if our starting place is as a Christian and our minds are formed by the Bible, there will still be vast differences in worldviews with our brothers and sisters around the globe. Though it will be easier to discuss these issues with Christians, there will still be areas of local sensitivity. Just be aware and prepared to be forgiving and to be forgiven.
The next several items are practical in nature but will greatly serve you in preparation.
You may not get a shower. It may not be available. This can range from a limited time to a way of life. If you cannot sleep for more than few days without a shower, then you need to prepare for this possibility. In some places where you get a “shower” there may be no stall and there may be little water pressure. There may be an extreme limit in available clean water. Long showers are rarely appropriate. So, pack some hand sanitizer and prepare to get dirty for the Gospel.
Uncomfortable Bathroom Situations
It’s going to be uncomfortable. Count on it. In our time with Montana Indian Ministries we have grown accustomed to porta-potties (I may or may not have participated in a covert operation to temporarily relocate said porta-potties). In other places in the globe you will inevitably find yourself behind a tree or in a “squatty potty” and your digestive system will enjoy choosing this time to do acrobats for you. In some places only natural waste is flushable (if indeed there is any flushing involved). Here is another area to be aware and prepared and you do want to bring your own paper and wipes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Extreme Weather Conditions
Montana is notorious for extreme weather in both directions. You can experience 100 degree heat and ice in the same twenty-four hour period. The saying is, if you don’t like the weather, just wait around ten minutes. Extreme weather (heat, rain, cold) will be fact wherever you go to serve and to share the Gospel. Pack appropriately and prepare to endure, drink plenty of water, and wear appropriate shoes.
We live on the internet. It is no longer a destination, it is where we live our lives. There are many positives to this constant interconnectivity and many negatives. With this said, Montana prepares you to know you may go days on end without an Imessage or email. In some situations around the globe you may have to be cautious about what you post and how you post it. To prepare for these situations, try doing internet fasts before travelling and taking all your extra time (which you will have) to pray and prepare.
Going from here to there is often for many the hardest part of sharing the Gospel. This can be as small as crossing the street (which seems to loom pretty large for most people) or as big as a few connections and layovers to the other side of the globe. The only way to prepare for travel is to travel. Being on a plane for several hours and making connections to get to Montana will prepare you to multiply it times three to go to Africa or Asia. An important note however is to remember getting on a jet does not make you a missionary. If you are not crossing the street, then you are not prepared to cross the continent or the ocean.
The Challenge of Cohesiveness
It is important for the sake of the Gospel that we do our best to live peaceably with all those we are working alongside of. Personalities will come in conflict. The question is, how will we respond and make reparations where necessary? I have been on mission trips in which the “team” consisted of my wife and I. We have struggled with this and this is only multiplied by the number of personalities. It is important to prepare to bear with one another in all patience and humility. You will ultimately grow in respect for one another and in awe of a God who can put together people who are so different for His global purposes.
If anything on this list has caused you to second guess going somewhere close like Montana or even further like Southeast Asia, then you need to reconsider immediately. Though exhausting and draining, spiritually and physically, making disciples of all nations and participating in global evangelization is well worth every possible cost and sacrifice you can imagine. So, let’s seek to be obedient, and let’s get to work!