We are so thankful to our friends and companions on the border. One of the most important things I learned from Manuel Padilla is the importance of listening to people in the community. Relationships are the foundation of ministry. And one of the most important component of forming relationships is listening in order to understand the people and network of relationships around you. This is especially important when working across cultures.
Although only 100 people attend Las Tierras functions on a weekly basis, the relational foundation built by Pastor Manuel and our congregation goes much deeper. He has formed relationships with the mayor, city council, state representatives, community leaders, business owners, principals, teachers, and countless others in the community. When I started working with Manuel, I was frustrated at his community development approach. Why is a missionary organizing the community to petition for street lights or raising money for a public park. For goodness sake, even our sports camp didn't have overt Bible lessons or evangelism. But over time I see the effectiveness of Manuel's strategy. Over time people see Manuel's love and concern for the community. His service to the community gives him credibility and lays a foundation of trust. God is at work in people's lives and when they go through hard times they often go to Manuel. When people in the community come they are ready to hear what God's Word says. This is much more effective than a publicity campaign or a flashy tract. God's Word is powerful and effective. People that would never darken the door of the church come to Manuel, because he has demonstrated that he is trustworthy and has others interests at heart.
As I look back at my experiences as a pastor, I often had all the answers that I wanted to dump onto the youth or congregation. In evangelism this is often our tactic as well. We have a set outline of information we try to get through regardless of the person's situation and what God happens to be doing in their life at that moment in time. This was not either Jesus or Paul's approach. They both tailored their teaching to the needs of the people around them. Jesus' teaching to Nicodemus in John 3 is much different than the teaching he gave the Samaritan woman in the next chapter. Jesus asked a lot of questions and tailored his teaching to that specific person. Paul used different language and illustrations depending on his audience. In Acts 13 he is addressing the Jews and reasons from the Old Testament Scriptures. In Athens, he quotes Greek poetry and illustrations from their own culture.
Manuel has given me some tools to help me listen and understand the cultural context I hope to serve.
Focus on the Good
As a youth pastor at Heartland, I wore myself out trying to get the youth to invite friends to evangelistic activities. I was frustrated that a couple of kids didn't prioritize youth group. They were always doing extra curricular activities at school or focusing on sports. I had a paradigm shift when I started viewing my job as equipping these kids to shine in the arenas God had given them rather than create a program to fix what I saw as a deficiency. Several of these kids went on to star in musicals and plays, play on all-star sports teams, and one gal swam in the Olympics. They ended up with platforms far beyond what I could have ever imagined.
Both Manuel Padilla and Jose Rayas reinforced this lesson by challenging me to focus on the assets of a community and not simply gravitating to the things that are broken. Each person and community has been given gifts and resources and is called to be a good steward of those resources. This paradigm has a profound effect on our short term projects.
Often North Americans come to fix what is wrong in these poor communities. We see the lack of resources and we jump in to make things right. It makes us feel good to help. But is it what is best for the community? Sometimes our help of one person or group causes jealousy or tension in the community. Sometimes our help can undermine local attempts to do the same thing. For example, our flashy VBS may cause the children to become discontent with the local Sunday school teacher.
Often this goes back to the first principle. Listen and understand what is going on in the community. Connect to the dreams and aspirations of the local church or ministry. Figure out ways to support them in their ongoing work. Make sure they come out looking like the good guy.
I think that two key principles are: 1) Don't do anything for the national church/ministry that they can do for themselves. 2) Connect to the passion and vision that the church/ministry has for the community and support them in reaching the goals they have set.
A corollary principle is that the relationship is more important than the task. As North Americans we want to get things done. But the relationship you develop with church members/leaders and the relationships you help foster between the church and community are the biggest benefit of the trip.
Our Biggest Asset
|Promesa Christmas Dinner|
For Las Tierras, pray for a greater integration between the Anglo and Hispanic members. Praise God for growth of small groups. Pray for the development of leaders for the church.