How Montana Prepared Me for International Missions

tipiFor 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:

All “Nations”

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.

Spiritual Warfare

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.

Local Partners

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.

Minority Status

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) !

Cultural Sensitivities

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.

Hospitality 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.

Real Poverty

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).

Differing Worldviews

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.

Uncertain Hygiene

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.

Unreliable Internet

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.

Travel

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.

Now Go.

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!

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Have you finished your Christmas Giving?

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For at least 2.9 billion people in this world there will be no Christmas this year, or the year after that, or even ten years from now, if something does not change.

It is amazing to me to hear and see (with the world of social media) how often and how many people can exclaim already “finished (or almost) with Christmas shopping!” This is not necessarily an unworthy goal for those who do a lot of this sort of thing with only 55 shopping days left until Christmas. As many of us who are winding up our Christmas shopping daily, I can’t help but wonder how many of us have even began to think about our Christmas giving?

Certainly there are many worthy causes to which you can give during the Christmas season.  On the top of the list for many of us is Operation Christmas Child: packing shoe boxes to send gifts and the gospel to literally millions of children all over the world through Samaritan’s Purse. Many will give gifts and dollars to ensure that families in our own communities enjoy the same sort of holiday the rest of us do.  While all of these (and more) are worthy and worthwhile to support, ask yourself this question: how much are you giving to ensure that someone who has never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ may hear the gospel this Christmas season? (this is not to say that some if not all the above options could be possible answers to that question).

There is no greater gift for Christmas than the gift of the Gospel.  Without the gift of the gospel, there would be no Christmas. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior Who is Christ the Lord. . .”  Though this is originally spoken to shepherds (Luke 2), we have been given the same message, and the message of the child in the manger is one that is to reach every people group on earth before He returns as the Coming King (Matthew 24:14).

Sometimes I am asked why I am Southern Baptist. I can give multiple reasons in regard to denominational distinctives and theological truths, but if I may be so bold, one of the chief reasons I remain Southern Baptist is this: Missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  (Our annual missions offering for international missions named after a 19th century missionary to China).

I was astounded today to read and think on the implication of this: in Southern Baptist churches in 2012 over $12 billion dollars were placed in offering plates.  Our Lottie Moon International Missions offering, while the goal was set for $175 million, hovered around $150 million.

We cannot be so naïve or theologically irresponsible to suppose that the only thing that stands between 2.9 billion people who have never heard the gospel is simply money. As Pastor David Platt has observed, unreached peoples are not unreached peoples simply because we lack the resources but they remain unreached because we lack the resolve (message at SBC 2011 pastor’s conference). We know that God is sovereign over each and every soul on earth, but we also know that He has made each and every one of us responsible to share the gospel (Matt. 28:19 – 20) and the least we can do is support our missions in the darkest corners of the world with the resources we have.  I believe truly sacrificial giving will result in sacrificial going. Giving our resources will increase our resolve to go. Ridding our wallets of mammon is ridding our hearts of the greatest of American gods.

In all of the language that is being used to speak of “essentials” and “non-essentials” in Washington I wonder what would happen if we had those type of discussions in our church conferences and business meetings? I know that there are all sorts of wonderful ministries, missions, and activities that local churches spend their dollars on, but what can we do without so that others may know that “God is with us”?

Your challenge: Complete your Christmas giving early, then give some more. Even if your church has not announced a goal for Lottie Moon yet (most probably haven’t), give this Sunday. Get that special envelope, write in the memo, and prepare for the greatest season of giving we have ever seen as Southern Baptists.

Afterword

If you are not a Southern Baptist and you wish to give to focused, international and intentional missions for the unreached peoples of the world (or you are Southern Baptist and you wish to give to something in addition to our international offering) I recommend some of the following:

Bible Translation Projects for Peoples without the Word of God in their language:

The Seed Company

Wycliffe Bible Translators

Other gospel-driven missions:

The Gospel Coalition International Outreach

Samaritan’s Purse

New Tribes Missions

Mourn with Those Who Mourn

(photos courtesy Rebecca Milby)

Indian Monument at Little Big Horn National Military Park

For many of us giving thanks today it is easy to forget those who have much to mourn. We should “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:8) but we should also consider all circumstances as best we can. Today marks the National Day of Mourning for the American Indian, it is also the 60th birthday of Bruce Plummer ( Sioux and Assinaboine), a missionary and pastor in Montana. This past August a group from our church had an opportunity to participate with other churches and Montana Indian Ministries in service ministry at the Crow Fair in Crow Agency, MT. The “PowWow” ministry (picking up trash, serving water and coffee) has been pioneered for the last near decade by Bruce. This type of ministry, as well as many other efforts, marks a change in indigenous ministries in North America from the past three hundred years. For the most part most efforts have failed and much has been done in the name of missions and the church that have caused an even greater divide than ever before. The greatest question here is, “does Christ save from culture or within culture?” Bruce is a champion of “being all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22) as he is himself to his own people. Bruce continually reminds us that you will not find a Reservation Indian who is an atheist. All have a sense of a Creator God who is Sovereign (Rom. 1), but many are without a personal relationship with the Creator’s Son, Jesus Christ. Bruce is always careful to point out in his testimony, “When I became a Christian, I did not change Gods, I came to an understanding of Who Jesus Christ is.”

Little Boy at Crow Fair

Getting to know Bruce has been one of the many privileges the Lord has given me in my spiritual journey. To know Bruce is to be reminded of the bigness of the Kingdom of God and even God Himself as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. This day of mourning in which first peoples consider the past and ongoing sufferings of their ancestors and themselves is a reminder to us all as we are giving thanks and rejoicing that we are also commanded to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). It is an important time to remember that Indians are not only historical, but they are here with us. Today, on this day of mourning, and also Bruce’s birthday, would you join me in mourning and praying for the day that thousands more could share in Bruce’s testimony? When the Apostle John saw the great multitude from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7: 9) that number will include those from North American tribes and peoples, in no small part due to the efforts of missionaries like Bruce Plummer, who reminds us that ultimately God has redeemed from this one earth, one people from all peoples, and there is only one God and He has revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ.

For more information or how you can be involved I encourage you to visit Montana Indian Ministries and I Am Able Ministries , a movement of God through my friend Randy Carruth that connected us with Bruce and is doing much to partner churches and native peoples throughout this continent and beyond.

Bruce and Myself

Three Thousand.

And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. – Exodus 32:28   

 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41  

Wrap your head around that number: THREE THOUSAND. From September 11, 2001 the official death toll stands at 2,996.  On that infamous day of December 7, 1941 –  2,402 men lost their lives in and around the waters of Hawaii in defense of Pearl Harbor. This weekend, while you were celebrating the triumph of the Who Dat Nation, cheering for Tebow, waiting for the Tide to roll in or getting ready to Geaux, three thousand souls were thrown into eternity in the Southern Sudan.   

In the last 48 hours I have seen more information regarding the stats of the quarterback of the Denver Broncos or the predictions of scores of  some championship game more than I have seen this number: 3,000 – and a great deal from the men and women who are called by the name of Christ. 

I cannot say that in over the past few days I have not wasted time or not cared about someone more than myself at given moments, nor can I say that I can truly wrap my mind around what I am saying, but I know that it is incumbent upon me to see the fires burning, smell the sweat and the gun smoke and hear the cries of over a thousand children as they are snatched from their parents just before they become orphans only to be abused or raised to be soldiers to fight against their own people. Why? Because a preacher by the name of John wrote to a church, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?( 1 John 3:17).” What good are nachos, big screen TV’s, stats and ESPN when men, women, and children are being slaughtered in the 21st century modern world? Their world stopped turning on a January day, and almost no one noticed.  Smoking towers and twisted steal, or smoking assault rifles and bloodied farm implements? Either way: three thousand souls slipped into eternity and some of them were my brothers and sisters. The ones who were not were souls waiting for the Gospel. Three thousand.

Find out how you can pray for the Sudan at the Operation World site: operationworld.org

Take up and Read take 2: Devotionals

Do not waste your time reading unprofitable books. – Matthew Henry

Perhaps as the first week of January has past, you have thought, “I really intended to start a quiet time this year.” Perhaps you went to a bookstore or went online to find a devotional book, only to be discouraged by the vast amount of materials available. Since my posting about the Word, I have had a few questions about devotional materials so I am providing here a few tips.

If you can only have time to read one thing, then it must be the Bible. Being in the word is the most important part of the Christian walk. In fact, without the Word, we cannot see to walk (Psalm 119:105). Therefore, if your quiet time is not Biblically saturated, then it is in fact wasted time.

If an online guide or a printed plan is difficult for you to follow, then my chief recommendation for your devotional time this year is a One Year Bible . Each day there is a selection from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Psalms in an easy-to-follow format. The One Year Bible is available in all good modern English translations, and can also be found on Kindle for relatively inexpensive.

At the same time, there are many good tools out there that may be a springboard into the depths of the riches of God, if used rightly.

Selecting a Devotional Book.

“Help! I’m at the Christian bookstore and there are hundreds of devotional books, which one should I use/read?” Believe it or not, this answer is easier than you think. Is there a passage of scripture anywhere on the page? If not, put it down immediately! Hopefully, the passage is towards the beginning if not the beginning.

Sit down. Read one, or two. In fact, I would recommend looking at half a dozen to perhaps one per month. Did this devotional reflect upon the verse cited (in a responsible way)? Was I drawn to pray?

A good devotional will have you anchored in the word and centered on the Person of Jesus Christ. Without those elements, a “devotional” is just a story. This is why Chicken Soup for the Soul (in any form!) is a great bathroom reader and not a bedside or a book to read with your morning Coffee.

My suggestion is to start with a classic in devotional literature. There is a reason why the author is today with Jesus and his or her books are still in print. I include here a brief list of recommendations or books I have used that is in no way exhaustive but I hope helpful.

Suggestions.

Anything by Charles Spurgeon. I would suggest Morning by Morning , Morning and Evening , or Faith’s Checkbook for starters.

The Lord used the ministry of Charles Spurgeon to convert Oswald Chambers. His book My Utmost for His Highest has been a devotional classic for well over a century. It is available in updated language.

A Godward Life, John Piper. These daily readings are not only grounded in Christ, they are also challenging to the individual in preparing to live a Godward life in today’s world . You may view a free .pdf file at the Desiring God sitehere.

Streams in the Desert, L.B. Cowman. If you are looking for a lady author, this classic has been around a while and is a good one.

Daily Light for My Path by Anne Graham Lotz. This book keeps you focused on the word and is arranged neat and orderly.

Another trusted author is Joni Eareckson Tada. You can sign up for a daily emailed devotion at Joni and Friends here. Any book she has authored I would also recommend to you. We keep a copy of Christmas Longings around during that time of year.

If you want to try less than 365 days, try one of the 90 studies by Beth Moore on David , John , Paul or Jesus (or all the above for 360 days – that’s almost a year!). These interactive studies will engage your heart, soul, and mind.

Also the Voices of the Faithful series and Robert J. Morgan’s Then Sings my Soul books (stories about hymns) may also provide encouragement if you are more weighted towards missions or music.

Crosswalk.com

There is a plethora of material available at Crosswalk.com. Some is to be desired over others, but all in all they have a pretty good array of material available that includes two of the Spurgeon volumes I mentioned and Streams in the Desert. Their website is here.

Set a Time.

Mornings are arguably the best time for quiet/time devotional reading and prayer. There are many reasons why this is true, none of the least of which are scriptural examples of early morning meetings with the Lord in prayer. This will also help set the tone for the day. However, in the busyness of life, you may have a house full of people ( one or two kids is/are enough for this ) and you may have to steal a few moments sometime during the day. If this is the case, perhaps have a family time of prayer and reading of a passage of the Bible and have your personal time when everyone is out of the house, or during your lunch break, depending on your schedule and station in life. Whatever time works for you though, be consistent, as this will help you form a very important habit that may be the most profitable time you spend all day.

Do Not Get Discouraged.

If you miss a day or so, do not try to play catch up! You will drown this way. If following a daily devotional, pick up with the day you are on, then later (perhaps in a evening or a Saturday) read the days you have missed. There is grace!

Additional Suggestions.

Read Operation World.

If you like information, travel, geography, or are really Missions oriented, then my suggestion instead of a devotional book is Operation World. This resource has recently been updated and is a daily prayer guide for every country in the world. I recommend it’s reading and praying through by everyone. You may also find the information from the book at the site here.

Read a Classic or Biography.

If a daily book is not quite your style, then dive into some other form of Christian literature, perhaps a classic by C.S. Lewis, or a biography such as Eric Metaxes’ Bonhoeffer. Reading books such as these will continue to focus you on the person of Christ as we see the examples of those who have gone this way before. As lengthy as this post is, I may do a post on classics later.

In the meantime, “Take up and Read.” Please let me know if I can help you in any way.