I was going to write a post on missiology. I have list of principles that we work by, a philosophy of ministry. But then I decided to tell a story instead. In truth we don't live by principles or guidelines. We don't follow a program, we follow the God-Man Christ Jesus. He is our guide, our shepherd and He leads us into truth- and much more. He leads us on a dangerous adventure. He leads us into battle for the souls of men and women. He leads us to the establishment of His Kingdom in enemy territory. This story illustrates for me what it means to be a follower of Jesus, who we are and where we are going. Where we are going is the Cross, what we find on the other side is a resurrection.
In June of 2005 I went on Stateside Assignment for three months. As soon as I left there was a disaster in northern Mordor and our team was asked to help. They gave some immediate assistance to some families who had been through a flash flood that came down their narrow valley and washed away several flour mills and a few water canals. While they were there a man came up to them and asked if he could have a New Testament. The team assumed this man was a seeker and immediately gave him one. He in turn showed it to everyone in the village and loudly denounced us as proselytizers who were only there to convert them not help them. I came back in the fall and we made a plan to complete the project. We would provide them with materials they could not get so that they could fix the flour mills and the water canals. I live in Gondor and it is a nine hour drive from the Capitol to the border of Mordor where this village sits just across the river. There is a new bridge there but no road on the other side in Mordor. So, once we spent a week or so getting all the various permissions to take stuff across we went down. We spent several days in Ithilian on this side of the border and then we drove up to the bridge. The plan was that I would walk across the bridge with two of my national staff and the other two would present the various permissions to the various agencies and send the aid across the river on a raft in the morning. The guys said to me, 'Strider, you know it is a 15 mile walk to the village are you up for that?' I told them to 'shut up' I was not that old, I could do it just fine. I would eat those words badly. I was ready to walk 15 miles but I would soon learn that it was more than 10 miles straight up a steep mountain and then a little less than 5 harrowing miles down a deep gorge to the village which sat on a steep river bank. My legs were cramping furiously, I was drenched with sweat and we plodded on and on into the night. We reached the village at about 10:30 pm and I hoped we could just go to bed and meet with everyone in the morning. No dice. The village leaders piled into the house we were staying at and the meeting began right then. The first thing they did was to complain about the New Testament given earlier. I assured them that we would not give out any other literature. My team was critical of this decision but I told them that I was not going to get kicked out of this village for passing out literature when almost no one in the village could read! Then they asked us how long it had taken us to come and when we told them they replied, 'Five hours! We usually walk that in three, what is wrong with you?' So much for the foreigner coming in and being treated like a king. Anyway, I told them our plan to put the aid across the river in the morning. They agreed with the plan and we finally went to bed. The house owner slept in the doorway with his automatic rifle in his lap so that we would feel safe.
The next morning we got up and I limped down to the river. We waited all day. About 11 am the guys showed up across the river and began setting up the raft. An hour later they still had not sent anything across. Why not? It was only 50 yards across the river and we shouted back and forth. Apparently there was a problem with the paperwork. So, they went back into town to figure it out and we waited. We waited all day. At 5:30 pm they came back. No go. The local officials would not recognize our paperwork from the Capitol. We were discouraged. Sam who was with me shouted across to Merry, 'Get over here now!' Merry shouted back, 'No, they said that anyone who came across the river would be arrested.' Sam shouted again, 'We agree!' Yeah, me too. Much better to spend the night in jail than walk back over that mountain. But they didn't come. We turned and walked back up the hill completely depressed. We had been working on this for nine days now and still we couldn't get the aid across. Now we would spend the night here in the village and then trek back over the mountain. I looked up and said aloud in English, 'I know why you want us here one more night but you are going to have to get me back over that mountain in the morning.'
When we reached the house again all the village elders gathered. It was bad. They complained long and loud. 'Why can't you guys get the aid across?' 'Don't you know what you are doing?' 'Other agencies can do this why can't you?' 'We waited all day for nothing!' In defense I had nothing. No plan B no next step. I didn't know what was wrong and I couldn't fix it. After an hour or so of abuse they fell to talking about what they know all too much about. Drugs. A lot of drugs cross this border and these guys all know about it. I looked at Pipen and said, 'Have you told these guys your story?' Pipen has a dramatic testimony of how he was a drug addict and tried to kill himself but God miraculously saved his life physically and spiritually. He told his story to a rapt audience. They had never heard of anyone actually getting better! When he finished one of the men exclaimed, 'So, this drug addict has come to help us!' The local sheriff stopped him short and said, 'Quiet! This man has repented.' Very powerful. Slowly, everyone left. By 10 pm there was just our host and his nephew, a man I called the student because he was 18 and one of the only guys in the village who could read. Our host said, 'So, who is Jesus anyway?' Sam said, 'Who do you think He is?' The host said, 'I don't know anything about Jesus. I have never heard any stories or teachings about Him.' So, Sam started with the Old Testament and for two hours explained exactly who Jesus is. During the last 20 minutes as he shared about Christ's death and resurrection the Student sat with his mouth open dumbfounded. Then we went to bed.
At 3 am the Sherrif came by and got us up. He walked with us back over the mountain. I had no pain or tiredness at all. My legs didn't cramp and I felt good. When we got back to Gondor and found Frodo and Merry we realized what had happened. Nothing crosses that border without a bribe and they would not take a bribe from a foreign organization. Nine days on the road wasted. Or was it? I went to a guesthouse while Frodo tried a couple of more angles. Sam and Pipen went to sleep immediately but I could not. As I lay there in the guesthouse the Holy Spirit spoke to me very clearly. It was not through my skills or abilities, not through money or power that His Kingdom was to go forward. I Corinthians 2:3-4 says it this way:
"And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power."
We all want to proclaim the Word with power. We all want a 'demonstration of the Spirit'. But are we willing and able to go through the humiliation it takes to get there? There is no room for power politics in the Kingdom. The road we are on must lead to the Cross. Only as we go to the Cross can we find a resurrection on the other side.
By the way, we did get the aid across a week later by giving it to someone else and they bribing their way across. A year later we were driving by that village and our host was over on the Gondor side. He said that he, the Student, and two others met everyday to listen to a fifteen minute shortwave radio broadcast in their language. The programs are all about Jesus. Is that a Church? I don't know. I didn't report it on my Annual Statistical Report! But when I get to Heaven and stand before the throne don't be surprised if we all discover that the most important thing I have ever done in my life was to fail, fall, be humiliated, and proclaim the Gospel on that dark night in that dark place. Brokenness is a key component of my philosophy of ministry. I hope it is yours also.