“Mission is all about going, very little about doing and everything about being.” Naomi Reed spoke on this quote at CMS SA’s Summer Encounter in January this year. For the last 10 months, it’s been rolling around in my head and I re-listened to her talk on this last week.
When I first heard the quote, I loved it. Even if you apply it to ministry generally, it rings true. It can be easy to become task focused and miss the relational – the value of just sitting with someone, or chatting about nothing much or just what happens as we influence each other by example. In a cross-cultural context, where many of our competencies are hindered at least initially by language, cultural barriers or suspicion, a quote like this can be a lifeline that keeps us from becoming discouraged. It’s heartening that God can work through any situation if we are simply obedient to be in it.
But there’s something that doesn’t quite sit right with me about this quote either. You see, when we talk about going to Tanzania, people always ask us what we’re going to be doing. And, I think, rightly so. We’ve been invited by Tanzanians not just to come, not just to be, but to do a particular task. Now, perhaps in 10 years I’ll say that the work we went to do wasn’t what we ended up doing or what God had in store. And of course, we don’t believe we have the monopoly on having something to offer. Mission is partnership; we expect to be learning as much as we’re teaching. But we do have goals for our time there and that’s partly because those we’re going to serve with have tasks they want us to do.
In her talk, Naomi recalls that she wanted God to be doing stuff in Nepal and it was like he pointed out to her that he wanted to work in her first. Good stuff. Humility is essential in any ministry and especially cross-cultural mission. But cross-cultural mission isn’t mostly about what God does in you. In the context of talking about short term missions, Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary, cautions against mission being another way of consuming.
Naomi talked of doing being the focus of her energetic 20s. I’m conscious I’m still in my 20s. Maybe age will bring wisdom. I’m also aware that she was a missionary in Nepal for 6 years, so that’s 6 years experience that I don’t have either. And she didn’t go to Nepal thinking that it was for her benefit or she just wanted to ‘be’. It was more that she ended up in frustrating and seemingly fruitless situations; and God was preparing her for quite a different ministry through her being, so it did have goals at the end of it.
I’m looking forward to continuing to think this one through. Are you more drawn to the idea of being or the idea of doing? How do you work that out in practice?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.