When I first accepted the responsibility of pastoring a church (even though it was just part-time), I was scared to death of messing everything up. I had no training although I was scheduled to have two weeks of training the following summer at a seminary in Kansas City. I asked a pastor I really liked and respected for some advice, some help, some reassurance. What he told me before I ever stepped into the pulpit for the first time has stayed with me and guided me ever since. He told me the rules were four and very simple. Number one, “Love your people.” Number two, “Live your faith.” Number three, “Live your faith.” Number four, “Love your people.” He told me the two rules were repeated so that I would never think that one was more important than the other. I have never served a congregation or a people that I have not loved, nor have I ever not tried my hardest to live my faith, knowing that what I do is more important that what I say. We have met many missionaries here whose love of the people they serve is so apparent and so glorifies Christ that I am proud to know them. Sadly, there are other missionaries here who do not love the people of Tanzania. One male missionary got mad at a merchant and walked outside and urinated on the wall of his store in public. He was forced by an older missionary to go back and apologize, but really? Later, at a fellowship where he had the message for the day, his topic was “How can we love Tanzanians?” Karen just looked at me like, “What?” If we didn’t love the Tanzanians we wouldn’t even be here. Happily for all, a few months later, this unhappy missionary returned to his home country and never returned.
Lately, I have been reading the blog and Facebook posts of another missionary in the Arusha area who is ostensibly here to help and realized that what I was reading was, in fact, very negative all the way around. He has only been here for a year and will be leaving in another six months having fulfilled what he calls “his heroic mission.” The posts all fall into three groups. The first group show this person as being very heroic and working long, hard hours in horrible circumstances to save lives (this is not the Africa of David Livingstone, things are much nicer). The second group shows the Tanzanians as stupid, lazy, unable to change, wanting to talk all the time, and not knowing how to do things properly no matter how hard this person tries to explain to them what to do. The third group is all about how hard it is to live in a developing country emphasizing all the negative things, and, of course, there are always negative things about living anywhere. There has never been a single post that said anything positive about the people or the country in which they live. This so-called “helper” will be gone soon and almost everyone here will be glad to see it.
Oh how I worry that I might resemble this missionary in any way, shape, or form. I pray that I have not been guilty of trying to make what we do here seem heroic (it isn’t), or detrimental to the people (whom we love), or to make more of the conditions than they deserve (it is generally very nice here). Yes, we do have power problems, and yes, we do have malaria and other diseases here that we didn’t have in the U.S. That being said, we had power problems when we lived in Arkansas, sometimes having to check into a motel for the air conditioning. We had health problems there, too, so what we are doing here is not heroic, nor sacrificial, and we certainly don’t see ourselves as the saviors of these people—we are only here to help where we can with what we have. We are here to love, to feed, to teach, to care, and to offer our gifts to others. If I have ever written blogs or posted on Facebook or Google+ the kinds of things I have been reading from this “savior of these stupid people” (not my words) then please accept my most profuse apologies. There is a line in the movie “Blood Diamond” where a local African tells a white aid worker, “You come here with your hand sanitizer, your laptop, and your malaria medication and think you can save our world. You are wrong.” Well, we have two of the above in the form of hand sanitizer and laptops (no malaria medication is effective after two years and we have been here for twelve years), but we have never thought for a moment that we came here to bring enlightenment or to change the world here. We came here to serve, humbly, and with great love. If you love and care for others, you will change the world even if only a bit. We know that we are merely servants of our Lord in a distant vineyard, and we are only doing what little we can to help, working “with” and not “for” the people who live here. We do not want to be merely clanging gongs, but instead a song to lift the spirit.