Last month I was in South Asia—again. I was a guest speaker at a conference to which people had travelled, some for days. I came away feeling I had received much more than I had given. Why so?
Having been involved in ministry for more than half a century I was aware that in South Asia, although independence from colonialism had been achieved in the 1940’s the church was still dependent on foreign resourcing till the 1960’s or 1970’s. Later in the 1970’s and early 1980’s new movements were birthed conceived and staffed by national leaders. They have achieved good results far exceeding those of the missionary era. But they were still significantly dependent upon foreign finance to underwrite the implementation of their otherwise worthy visions.
By the late 1990’s and early 2000’s a third generation of movements was being birthed. These are quite independent from organized foreign resourcing for finance and staff. It was one of these, which invited my anticipation in their annual conference
The first pleasant shock came before I arrived. An email requested me to forward the invoice for my airfare so they could reimburse me. In all of my decades of travelling to work in developing countries, this offer was quite unprecedented. I explained I mostly raise all my own expenses through honorariums received whenever I speak in the developed world. I thanked them for their offer but politely declined.
Shortly after a second email made the same request. I deflected it.
Upon arrival I was greeted by a small reception party, given a beautiful bouquet of local flowers and driven to my accommodation. They had earlier enquired what sort of accommodation I would prefer. Aware of the many demands some foreign speakers make, I had replied, as an experienced traveller in the region, I could be quite comfortable under a conveniently located tree, provided plastic sheeting was available. It was the monsoon season and I had been so accommodated on other occasions.
Remarkably I was delivered to a more than suitable local hotel, which had a lift and air-conditioning whenever the electricity was on.
Introductory formalities included provision of a driver and car, a “gofer” to fulfill any request at any time and a security person who would accompany me everywhere as needed. All of this was for my exclusive convenience. The hotel had been booked a day earlier than the conference and retained an extra day after conference, all expenses paid, so that I would be rested.
The conference itself ran like a well-oiled clock. Everything had been tightly organized and impeccably timed. The precision was amazing for this part of the world.
Each day started with an hour of quite anointed worship led by very gifted people. One often senses in larger gatherings in the West that everything is organized by committees. It functions well. It’s organizationally efficient. It’s technologically superior—but somewhat lacking in any manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
The gatherings in this conference were characterized by zeal, enthusiasm and spontaneity. Teaching sessions in the mornings were 1¼ hours each, separated by a 10 minute tea break. In the evenings we commenced with an hour of worship followed by two hours of teaching and ministry. Concentration never wavered.
Most of the people were under 40 years of age and many were professionals. This is a new generation in every sense of the word.
The health of any group of people is somewhat determined by the health of its leadership. If leaders are sick or impaired, inevitably those whom they lead will exhibit similar characteristics. The reverse is also true.
In the case of this movement, the founding leader and his closest companion in leadership are both only 40. One had qualified as a medical doctor and the other as a dental surgeon, when they felt God’s call to ministry—specifically cross cultural missions. They never hesitated. If Jesus is Lord at all, He has to be Lord of all. They resigned from their professions and moved far away to start work among different people groups. This was a huge leap of faith given the impoverishment of their domestic scene. Still today the former medical doctor accepts no salary from any of the organizations he leads—preferring to live on whatever God supplies.
God favoured them in their endeavours and then called the Doctor back to home base to start new things there. This also has been blessed. Not only have various churches and training centres been established, they have also commissioned their first cross cultural workers to another country in their region.
On my second day the conference leader gently asked directly for my airfare invoice. I handed it over. I was advised that they intended not only to pay for my air travel and accommodation. They were also intending to give me a significant honorarium.
However, on the last morning an announcement was made that to clear all conference expenses a special offering would be taken. I immediately asked the leader to allow me to bear all my own expenses, as this would clear most of the debt. He replied, “Our people must learn the blessing of sacrificial giving. Your part in this is just to receive.”
Sure enough, on the last evening the offering was taken, but no container came anywhere near me. Not to be outdone, as it passed behind me I managed to put some notes in it. Later that night as I was sorting out my papers and repacking ready to depart the next night, I suddenly had an experience similar to that of Joseph’s brothers. After they had left him in Egypt, during the journey back to
Jacob in drought stricken Canaan, when one of the opened his sacks of grain, there was the silver returned with which they had paid for the grain [Genesis 42:27-28].
In my case, firstly there fell out an envelope with foreign currency representing a huge sacrificially given honorarium for this part of the world. A little later in another envelope there were all the notes I had put into the special offering!!
As I flew back to Australia I couldn’t help thanking God that I had lived and worked long enough to see this emergence of His “third generation” post independence church, in all of its youthful enthusiasm following Jesus with youthful abandonment.
What we often have in our well-organized affluent church in the West, is but a pale imitation of the reality of life in the Spirit and exuberant faith, which is in the church of the developing world. It’s little wonder that in the post Christian West, the church is mostly plateaued or dying, while elsewhere it is surging ahead in spite of poverty and persecution.
May the richness of their poverty rescue us from our impoverishment of our riches before it’s too late to reverse our national trends.
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