As a zealous, young missionary I seemed to make the same mistake over and over. Now as a veteran, I find the same never-ending truth must remain continually before me.
People are not our projects.
We never set out to do this intentionally. Our mistakes are made in ignorance. Our desire is to do good, to help others, and to bring change.
Even with these godly desires, we must remain ever careful to not walk in superiority and arrogance.
The message “I have something to give you” may be true, but must be balanced out with a healthy dose of humility and a learning spirit.
Because the truth is, we all have something to give each other.
Examine these two statements. Although similar, they can create two completely different perspectives.
“I have walked with so and so for this many years.”
“We have walked together for this many years.”
The difference is subtle.
If you are working in an area where colonialism has been present, these subtle differences can be interpreted in ways you would never desire.
As we walk with different people in various cultures, humility requires us to be willing to receive and learn from others.
One particular young man and I have now journeyed together for nearly ten years. The other day we went for a meal and he insisted on paying. Even though I consider him a friend and not a project or my ministry, I could feel some push back in my heart.
Must I be in the place of power, being the one who pays? Do I allow myself to receive…or only give?
I received his offer to pay, and we had a wonderful meal together. But in this event I saw I must still constantly be aware of this subtle form of pride which creeps up; even after all these years.
Let’s ask ourselves a few questions:
- Can we receive from those we work with?
- Do we learn from the culture we are working in, or is our way always better?
- When is the last time we were taught at a local church service rather than a podcast or blog post from home?
- Do we feel uncomfortable when we find ourselves on the receiving end of generosity?
I recently heard the story of a friend who was given a rather lavish gift from someone. It is one thing to accept a cup of tea or a meal, but can we receive an extravagant blessing given by someone who hails from culture we serve in?
If people are our friends, and we view them as equal, then we must be willing to receive.
Bishop Desmond Tutu famously says, “We are stronger when we are together.”
This same image is reflected in Scripture speaking of one body with many parts. Different members, yet all essential.
Recently I organized a conference of Bible School leaders from all over the African continent. I was intentional in trying to create an opportunity to learn from each other, not just present one view from the front. We had a beautiful time discussing difficult issues such as finances, tribalism, and injustice we have faced.
We truly were “better together.”
When we do not view people as our projects, but rather see them as equal image bearers of God, remarkable things can happen.
Let’s preach this “gospel” to ourselves each day.
Photo by Eutah Mizushima